Monday, January 08, 2007

Endangered Right Whale Killed by Ship Off of Georgia Coast

By: New England Aquarium
Published: Jan 3, 2007 at 07:27

With the clock ticking down on the close of 2006, whale biologists are
concerned that the extinction clock might be ticking down on the North
Atlantic right whale as a species. On Saturday, December 30, an aerial
survey team in waters off of Brunswick, Georgia discovered a floating
two-year old male right whale that had been killed by a ship strike. 2006
proved to be an exceptionally bad year for what might be the world's most
endangered large whale as six of these giant creatures that migrate up and
down the East Coast were found dead. Five of the deaths were the direct
result of human caused interactions including four deaths due to ship
strikes and one from a fishing gear entanglement.

The dead juvenile whale was first spotted floating belly up at 10:30 a.m.
Saturday by an aerial survey team with the Wildlife Trust about 10-12miles
east of Brunswick, Georgia. Later on Saturday and overnight, the carcass was
towed to Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island in Florida. On Sunday, a
multi-organizational team led by Dr. Michael Moore of the Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution of Massachusetts performed a necropsy on the
whale. The animal had twenty large propeller cuts along the right side of
its head going down its back. This is the signature injury of a ship strike,
and further examination indicated that the massive, deep lacerations did not
occur after the death of the whale. The young whale was 41 feet long and
probably weighed 15 to 20 tons. Unlike many other right whales, this animal
had not yet been given a name by whale researchers who know most of the
individuals in the population. However, a unique raised skin pattern on his
head allowed biologists to identify him as a juvenile that had been born in
2005 to a mother named Columbine. Right whale calves typically stay with
their mothers for a year. Juvenile males occasionally migrate down the East
Coast late each autumn as do pregnant females to the calving grounds off the
coast of Georgia and Florida.

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