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Chatham Right Whale Calf Mortality Update

Chatham, MA-On May 6, a team coordinated by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), conducted a necropsy on the right whale calf found off of Morris Island on May 5. The calf was towed by the Harbormaster's office to Harding's Beach, where the necropsy was conducted.

"While results are still preliminary, we found several large propeller wounds that suggest a pre-mortem vessel interaction," says Dr. Alex Costidis, Stranding Response Coordinator, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. "We collected samples for further diagnostic analysis, which may provide more information on the cause of death." 

The right whale calf was a male, 9.02 meters in length, and identified as the calf of a right whale called "Punctuation." The calf was born this past winter, between December and February. The mom and calf pair was first sighted on January 12, 2016 in Georgia in the right whale winter calving waters. The pair was last seen on April 28, 2016 in Cape Cod Bay, with no apparent injuries. He was one of 14 new calves reported this year, and Punctuation's eighth calf.

"The critical information gained from necropsies like this assist NOAA Fisheries and its partners in understanding how and why such events occur and help develop ways in which the risks of such events can be significantly reduced," says Dave Gouveia, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Program coordinator at NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region. "We are truly appreciative of the necropsy team's efforts."

The necropsy team included representatives from IFAW, 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 and the Town of Chatham.

NOAA Fisheries urges boaters to watch out for whales this time of year and to proceed slowly in areas where whales have been reported. Right whales, particularly, often swim just below the surface, making them especially vulnerable to boat strikes. 

Check the most recent right whale sightings.

The NOAA Office of Law Enforcement is investigating the circumstances surrounding this right whale calf mortality. Penalties for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act are based on many factors, including intent and circumstances.

All photos were taken under NMFS permit #18786 and should be credited to IFAW.