Right whale suffering ‘serious injury’ spotted off N.C. coast, dead calf found day before

NOAA reported two tragic North Atlantic right whale incidents that occurred off of the North Carolina coast in the same week.
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 10:03 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2023 at 12:28 PM EST
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RODANTHE, N.C. (WECT) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported two tragic North Atlantic right whale incidents that occurred off of the North Carolina coast in the same week.

On Jan. 8, NOAA stated that an aerial survey team from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium spotted a North Atlantic right whale approximately 20 miles east of Rodanthe that was “heavily entangled.” Several wraps of the line were spotted around the tail and mouth of the whale, with an additional line trailing behind it.

Scientists determined this to be right whale #4904, a 4-year-old female who was last seen in Massachusetts Bay in May of 2022. At the time, there were no signs of entanglement.

Based on the information provided to them, NOAA Fisheries biologists made the preliminary determination that the whale would likely die from this “serious injury.” They noted numerous wounds across the body and the presence of whale lice on her head.

“It’s discouraging and frustrating to see yet another North Atlantic right whale entangled in fishing gear,” said Gib Brogan, campaign director for Oceana. “With only around 340 whales remaining, losing a juvenile female sets the North Atlantic right whale population back significantly. NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service must do more to prevent deadly entanglements like this one.”

Response teams were not able to mount an effort to disentangle the whale after the initial sighting due to its distance from shore and the time of day. As of this time, authorities are trying to spot the whale again. The possibility and necessity of an entanglement response will be determined if they can re-sight her.

On Jan. 7, a North Atlantic right whale calf was found dead under a pier near Morehead City.

Just days before, on Jan. 3, the calf was spotted swimming alone close to the shore inside Beaufort Inlet. The sighting was reported to the Southeast Regional Stranding Network. Authorities from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute and the North Carolina Maritime Museum were able to locate the calf.

An aerial survey team further attempted to locate an adult whale that could serve as this calf’s mother, but no other right whales were found in the area. Due to the size and their specialized needs, intervention options are very limited for stranded calves, who cannot survive very long without their mothers.

Based on available information, experts determined that the male calf was no more than a few weeks old. Additionally, images and video of the whale showed that it was underweight and in relatively poor health.

Responding to information from a video showing the calf swimming under the dock at the Morehead City Port, authorities were unfortunately not able to locate the calf again until its body was found under the pier on Jan. 7.

As of this time, researchers do not know the condition or location of this calf’s mother.

A North Atlantic right whale spotted alone in the Beaufort Inlet
A North Atlantic right whale spotted alone in the Beaufort Inlet(Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute and NOAA)