Advertisement

North Atlantic right whale mother found dead, calf in jeopardy

A dead female North Atlantic right whale, #1950, was found floating offshore east of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #24359 - image credit)
A dead female North Atlantic right whale, #1950, was found floating offshore east of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #24359 - image credit)

A North Atlantic right whale was found dead over the weekend about 80 kilometres off the coast of Virginia.

According to the New England Aquarium, the whale known as "catalog #1950" was last spotted mid-February off the coast of Florida.

She was documented by aerial surveys and listed as being healthy, alongside her newborn calf.

But something happened during the whale's annual migration to northern waters.

RIGHT WHALE CATALOG #1950 AND CALF SIGHTED JANUARY 11, 2024 OFF ST. SIMONS SOUND, GA
RIGHT WHALE CATALOG #1950 AND CALF SIGHTED JANUARY 11, 2024 OFF ST. SIMONS SOUND, GA

This photo shows the now-deceased right whale with her calf on Jan. 11, off the coast of Georgia. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #26919)

According the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's North Atlantic right whale site, a ship brought the whale's carcass ashore. Scientists will perform a necropsy to ascertain what led to the whale's death.

"The calf, which aerial survey teams have been unable to locate, is not expected to survive without its mother," said the news release from the aquarium.

Records detail a harrowing life for the right whale leading up to her death.

She was first documented in 1989, making her at least 35 years old. Over the years she was seen entangled in fishing gear on three separate occasions.

Despite the odds, she raised five calves, all of which have been recorded by biologists in recent years, according to the news release. The calf currently missing would be her sixth, and last.

This is the fourth documented death of a North Atlantic right whale by NOAA this year.

One was strangled by fishing gear near Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. Another was found dead from blunt force trauma consistent with a ship strike off the coast of Georgia. A third was found washed up on an island, also in Georgia, with severe propeller wounds to its head and mouth.

All four whales killed this year were female. And at least three of the 19 calves born so far this year are believed to have died.

Conservation groups believe there are between 350 and 360 North Atlantic right whales left in the world.