First right whale calf born in 2019-2020 reported dead

Right whale calf carcass.jpg
North Atlantic Right Whale calf carcass found off coast of New Jersey. (NOAA Fisheries)

One of only 10 right whale calves born in the winter season is dead after getting hit by multiple boats.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), NOAA Fisheries reported a right whale carcass floating in the Atlantic off the coast of New Jersey on June 25. The whale was identified as the calf of Catalog #3560, which spent most of the right whale nesting season off the coast of Florida, even making a rare appearance in the Gulf of Mexico in March.

A necropsy of the animal revealed the cause of death to be a vessel impact injury on its lower back and a series of propeller wounds across the upper back and head that were severe enough to have impaired the calf's natural behaviors such as swimming, nursing and interacting with its mother, according to the FWC. The final, and fatal blow, was a vessel injury to its tail.

“Our hearts are broken by the news of the loss of this calf, which was the first calf observed this past season. 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,” says Kim Damon-Randall, Deputy Regional Administrator for the Greater Atlantic Region.

In 2017, NOAA Fisheries issued an unusual mortality event for North Atlantic Right Whales due to the elevated numbers of dead or seriously injured whales.

According to NOAA Fisheries, over the past three years, 31 whales in Canada and the U.S. have been documented dead and an additional 10 have been documented alive but with serious injuries (41 whales total). Most of the mortalities or injuries have been attributed to either vessel strikes or entanglements. Due to there only being roughly 400 Right Whales remaining, the 41 individuals represent 10 percent of the population.