Saturday, April 20, 2024

Whale Advocates Decry Latest Injury To Whale Calf From A Ship Strike


A two-month-old right whale calf whose head, mouth and lips were split open by a boat’s propeller was spotted off the US coast of South Carolina on January 6th.

Fishermen who sighted the calf recognized that the whale was injured and provided the video and images they obtained to NOAA Fisheries.

Further analysis of social media photos led NOAA to identify the calf’s mother, who was nearby, as Juno, the first documented right whale mom of the season.

In a statement, NOAA said:

“Videos shared by the public on social media show several propeller wounds on the head, mouth, and left lip of the calf consistent with a vessel strike. These injuries may impact this calf’s ability to nurse successfully.

“After reviewing this case, NOAA Fisheries biologists made a preliminary determination that it meets the criteria of a ‘serious injury.’ This means the whale is likely to die as a result.”

This is the 35th “serious injury” case in the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event impacting North Atlantic right whales that NOAA has conducted beginning in 2017. Since then, the agency has documented 122 individuals so far, including this calf: 36 dead, 35 seriously injured and 51 otherwise sick or injured whales.

Whale advocacy groups were quick to condemn the whale strike.

Oceana Campaign Director Gib Brogan said:

“We are outraged that yet again, a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale calf is on the brink of death, likely due to a vessel strike. This time, the calf was spotted off Edisto, South Carolina, but North Atlantic right whales swim in constant danger because Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and the Biden administration have failed to release a strong vessel speed rule. Just weeks old, this calf offered hope to help rebuild a species on the edge of extinction due to human negligence. A year ago, another newborn calf washed up dead in North Carolina, and last February an adult whale was found dead off Virginia Beach. We don’t need any more morbid anniversaries, we need urgent action from the Biden administration to protect North Atlantic right whales.

“It’s been almost a year and a half since the Biden administration proposed the new vessel speed rule to help protect North Atlantic right whales from this very threat – boat strikes. Today we’re still waiting for the government to do what it knows needs to be done. It’s clear current safeguards are not working… the question is: Why is the Biden administration delaying a stronger vessel speed rule while whales are needlessly dying?”

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Executive Director Regina Asmutis-Silvia said:

“The real tragedy here is that this was preventable. Juno is doing her job by having babies but politics are killing them faster than she can reproduce. It’s inexcusable.”

With a declining population and only 70 breeding females, the North Atlantic right whale will almost certainly go extinct without key conservation measures, according to WDC. Current regulations are not sufficient to protect the whales, and changes proposed by NOAA Fisheries are unlikely to go into effect before the end of this year’s calving season, the organization added.

Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said:

“Right whale calves are a crucial sign of hope and recovery for the species, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking that one has been hit by a vessel. What makes this tragedy even worse is that the whale calf could have been saved by a speed limit rule like the one we’ve been pushing for. The federal government keeps dragging its feet at the expense of these critically endangered whales.”

John Liang
John Liang
John Liang is the News Editor at He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.