Right whale calf found dead off the Florida coast

01/30/2007 09:37:03 AM

WDCS is devastated to learn of the death of a newborn North Atlantic right whale which has been reported by the American press. The young animal, a 4 metre long male, still showed foetal folds in his skin, indicating that he may have been just days old. The young animal’s death is thought to have been due to natural causes, including the possibility of birth trauma.

WDCS senior biologist, Regina Asmutis-Silvia comments, ‘There have been 10 documented calves born so far this season and it’s not yet clear as to whether this was one of them but I suspect it wasn’t as it doesn’t appear this calf was alive long enough to have been included in any photo documentation. Genetic testing may help determine who its mother was and we hope to find she is alive and well.”

Historically, thousands of right whales roamed the waters of the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada. However, over-hunting took its toll and the population has dropped to an alarming level. While protection from hunting was enacted in 1935, other human generated threats continue to pressure this species including those from vessel strikes, entanglements in fishing gear, pollution, habitat degradation as well as the increasing industrial development of our oceans.

Experts believe there are now fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales left in existence, making them one of the most endangered of all large whales. Concern for right whales was highlighted late last year when the US Wildlife Trust aerial survey observers spotted a dead 41’ foot, juvenile male right whale off the coast of Georgia making it the 6th known dead right whale in 2006. At least five of the last six right whales have died prematurely- four were killed by vessels and one died entangled in fishing gear. These numbers do not reflect the animals that die, and are lost at sea or can not be recovered for operational safety reasons. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency charged under the Endangered Species Act with protecting these animals, even a single unnatural death each year will contribute to the demise of this species. Since 2004 at least 15 right whales are known to have died, most as a result of vessels strikes and of which two-thirds were female of breeding age and in three cases were pregnant with full term calves.

Proposed regulations which include mandating the use of modified fixed-fishing gear throughout the east coast and reducing the speed of vessels in key habitat areas have been prepared, but are still not yet enacted. WDCS continues to ask all interested and concerned citizens to repeatedly contact U.S. senators and congressional representatives (http://whales.org/USgovContacts.asp) and tell them these regulations need to be put in place before it is too late and the right whale joins the list of species humans have eradicated forever.

Source: WDCS / news-press.com


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