Another one of 14 North Atlantic right whale calves born in recent months was found dead Feb. 13 on a beach near St. Augustine, Fla., the apparent victim of a vessel strike, according to state and federal officials.
The 22-foot, 4,000-pound animal had skull and rib fractures consistent with being hit by a vessel, marine biologists told local news media after examining the carcass at Anastasia State Park. One possibility under investigation was whether a recreational boat that grounded a few miles away had collided with the animal a day before the animal was found.
NOAA officials reported the dead calf was believed to be offspring of a 19-year old female whale, catalogued as Infinity (#3230) by scientists who track the highly endangered species, now estimated to number less than 400 animals.
It was the second loss of the 2020-2021 calving season, following the November discovery of another recently born right whale calf on a North Carolina beach. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is investigating both cases.
The incident is the latest loss that has NOAA pushing new conservation measures on the Northeast lobster fishery to reduce gear entanglements with whales, with virtual public hearings in New England this week and next. The agency is under a federal court directive to finalize its new plan by May 31.
As for reducing ship strikes, a NOAA analysis released Jan. 21 asserts much more must be done to reduce that hazard. The report notes that speed restricted areas announced to protect migrating whales are more likely to be disregarded near approaches to Southeast ports – close to the right whales’ annual calving grounds.