First Right Whale Calf Death of the Year Reported in Florida

By Monica Medina and Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

Last weekend a sportfishing boat off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida struck and killed a one-month-old North Atlantic Right Whale calf, according to Florida news outlets The fishing boat reported the strike after it had to run ground to avoid sinking – the five people aboard were unharmed.  The calf washed up on the beach in a state park the following day, with injuries caused by the propeller.  On Tuesday, local officials spotted the calf’s mother, a whale named Infinity, and she also had injuries consistent with a vessel strike. The mother and calf had been spotted on numerous occasions in the calving grounds off north Florida since mid-January.

Why This Matters: Since 2017, 47 North Atlantic right whales had been found dead or injured, and the population of this species has shrunk to only 400 members.  These deaths are preventable — and environmental groups argue that the government should have stricter rules to protect this species now given the spike in fatalities. In addition to ship strikes, whales get caught in fishing lines or hit by boats, or harmed by ocean noise such as seismic testing. Some data suggests that more than 85% of Right Whales, have been entangled in fishing gear at least once, which is why many are urging the use of “ropeless” gear to solve the entanglement problem.  And fewer ship strikes will occur if boat operators slow down (10 knots or less) and remain alert and far (500 yards) away from any whales while traveling through nearshore waters.  

Saving the Whales

Keeping the North Atlantic right whale from going extinct will be a difficult task.  Ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear such as lobster trap lines, as we have reported, are the most common causes of death for these whales.  However, efforts to mitigate fishing in areas populated by whales have incited protests from fishing communities who see these policies as attacks on their livelihoods.  Moreover, climate change has put this species in further danger. As waters warm, it may be difficult for whales to find food, so they have to enter new places which may house unforeseen dangers. 

Right Whale Calf Sighting Sparks Hope 

Divers off the coast of el Hierro — an island in the Canary Islands — found a four-meter whale past swimming past their boat. This whale was a North Atlantic right whale, one of the world’s most endangered whales. The calf seemed to be alone, and was thousands of miles away from its normal habitat in the east coast of Canada and the U.S.   The North Atlantic right whale was considered extinct in their natural habitat for about 100 years, so this sighting is a big deal. It could suggest that the species may be repopulating, making its home on the European and African side on the Atlantic. This sighting is a sign of hope that this species may come back from the brink. 

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