The right whale calf found floating off the Jersey Shore last week had evidence of at least two separate vessel collisions, federal authorities said.
The carcass of the North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species, was spotted on Thursday by an aerial survey team from the Center for Coastal studies off the coast of Elberon (part of Long Branch), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement.
On Monday, NOAA released preliminary results on a necropsy, finding that the whale had several propeller wounds across his head and chest, and a likely rudder injury on his back that may have occurred at the same time.
Based on observed evidence of healing, those wounds were likely several weeks old, but were serious enough that they may have significantly impaired the whale, NOAA said in a statement.
A second vessel collision resulted in a series of propeller wounds and a rudder wound across the tail stock, NOAA said.
"Evaluation of these wounds suggests they were inflicted shortly before the animal died and were likely the cause of death," NOAA concluded.
“Our hearts are broken by the news of the loss of this calf, which was the first calf observed this past season," Kim Damon-Randall, deputy regional administrator for the Greater Atlantic Region, said. "The loss of every right whale is a detriment to this critically endangered species, but it is particularly hard when we lose a calf, given how few have been born in the last several years."
"The effort to secure this calf in order to determine the cause of death was herculean with many twists and turns," Damon-Randall said. “We want to express our sincere appreciation to the many partners involved in this massive effort for your dedication and service towards the recovery of this critically endangered species. We are committed to continuing to work with our partners both in the United States and Canada to reduce threats to North Atlantic right whales in order to recover the species.”
This mom/calf pair had been seen in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this spring, where they were reportedly harassed by boaters. This kind of exposure may have caused the calf to become accustomed to the presence of vessels, which could have contributed to its death, officials said.
Less than 400 North Atlantic right whales exist -- with less than 100 breeding females, NOAA Fisheries said.
Over the past three years, 31 whales in the U.S. and Canada have been confirmed dead and another 10 have been found alive but with serious injuries. Most deaths or injuries are attributed to either vessel strikes or entanglements. Given there are only ~400 individual North Atlantic right whales remaining, those 41 individuals in the UME represent approximately 10% of the population, which is a significant negative impact on such a critically endangered species.
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