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Right Whale Calf Mortality Update

Jennifer  Goebel (NOAA)
(978) 281-9175
(978) 290-0203 (Cell)
July 8, 2016

The necropsy results on the right whale calf found floating off Morris Island near Chatham, MA on May 5 show that the cause of mortality was a vessel strike.

The necropsy showed 9 propeller/chop wounds on its belly, with several extending on to the sides of the body, peduncle and tail. The calf had multiple fractured bones, and soft tissue findings were consistent with a vessel strike that occurred before death.

The necropsy team found no indications of entanglement and no major findings of disease or ill health. The team did find signs of a possible viral infection, the impacts of which were likely to have been minor. This information is valuable for our understanding of the overall health of this population.

Based on the state of decomposition in the tissues, we estimate that the calf had most likely been dead for 2-4 days, but could have been dead for up to 5 days prior to the necropsy.

The necropsy team coordinated by the International Fund for Animal Welfare included representatives from University of North Carolina Wilmington, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, NOAA Fisheries, Center for Coastal Studies, New England Aquarium, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Town of Chatham.

The NOAA Office of Law Enforcement conducted a thorough investigation. No witnesses or other conclusive evidence of vessel misconduct has been found. After careful consideration and with concurrence from the NOAA Office of General Counsel, OLE has closed the case for lack of evidence.

NOAA Fisheries urges boaters to watch out for whales this time of year, and to proceed slowly, 10 knots or less, in areas where whales have been reported. Right whales, particularly, can be found at times just below the surface, making them difficult to see and especially vulnerable to boat strikes.                   

Report a stranded marine animal: 866-755-6622 (NOAA)
Report a violation to the Office of Law Enforcement: 1-800-853-1964

To report a right whale sighting, contact the U.S. Coast Guard via channel 16, through the WhaleAlert iPhone/iPad app or call 866-755-6622 (NOAA).

On the web

Find out more about how to spot and help right whales.
Learn more about right whale approach guidelines.