North Atlantic Right Whale Calf Injured by Vessel Strike

January 13, 2020

On January 8, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spotted the fourth right whale calf of the season off Georgia, but the young whale was already injured.

Right whale mother, Derecha (top), and her injured calf.

Right whale mother, Derecha (top), and her injured calf.

A North Atlantic right whale calf was spotted off Georgia on January 8 with two roughly parallel and S-shaped injuries that experts say were consistent with the propeller of a vessel. The calf's mother is #2360, "Derecha," which means "right" in Spanish. 

The injuries are concerning because of the severity and location of the wounds. One of the injuries appears to include damage to the calf's mouth which could hamper its ability to nurse and feed. Biologists estimate the newborn is just days old and the wounds were perhaps hours old.

Latest Updates

January 16

Team Administers Antibiotics to Injured North Atlantic Right Whale Calf 

A team relocated Derecha and her injured right whale calf off Fernandina Beach, Florida yesterday afternoon. Biologists didn't want to get too close until verifying this was the mom/calf pair we were looking for. An aerial support crew soon provided confirmation and on-water assessment, giving the on-site veterinarian enough information to determine that antibiotics would benefit this whale. The team was able to remotely administer the drugs with the hopes of staving off infection. Now biologists will continue to monitor the calf during routine aerial surveys. The calf’s prognosis remains poor. 

Photos and video are allowing medical and whale experts a chance to examine changes in the wounds and assess the calf's overall behavior, condition, and health over time.

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Photos: (Top) North Atlantic right whale mother, Derecha, swims with her injured calf. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. (Middle) The darting team prepares the antibiotic dart before administering it. Credit: NOAA Fisheries. (Bottom) Derecha and her calf at the water's surface. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. All photos taken under NOAA permit 18786-04.

This was a huge effort made possible by many experts from partner agencies all over the country including the  field teams made up of FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the Wildlife Resources Division - Georgia DNR, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, SeaWorld, Blue World Research Institute and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and external consultants from across the country that provided technical assessment of the injuries..

In the meantime we ask anyone with information regarding the calf's injuries and additional sightings to contact 1-877-WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5343).

NOAA urges everyone to please give these animals their space. Mom/calf pairs spend the majority of their time at, or a few feet below the water's surface in the Southeast U.S. This is a critical and vulnerable time for right whale moms to bond with their calves - law requires staying away at least 500 yards by air (including drones) and by sea.

The protection of these animals is in the hands of all mariners on the water and all businesses that service those vessels. Stay educated, remain alert, and slow down while traveling through areas where right whales are found.

January 13

"Derecha's" injured right whale calf was last seen Friday afternoon by aerial survey and on-water teams with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Medical experts and biologists spent the weekend reviewing images and video to continue assessments of the injury and prognosis and to determine potential next steps. Based on the images received, the calf's wounds are worse than originally thought - for example, some of the wounds are to the lip and may not be repairable, leading to impacts on feeding. 

The calf's prognosis was downgraded from "guarded" to "poor". The current plan is to locate the mother and calf pair, obtain images in order to update our assessment of the calf's injuries, condition and behavior. Antibiotics may be delivered if warranted.

This is a huge effort made possible by many experts from partner agencies all over the country. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Georgia Department of Natural ResourcesClearwater Marine Aquarium ResearchSeaWorld, Blue World Research Institute, and IFAW.

In the meantime we ask anyone with information regarding the calf's injuries and additional sightings to contact 1-877-WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5343).

NOAA urges everyone to please give these animals their space. Mom/calf pairs spend the majority of their time at, or a few feet below the water's surface in the Southeast U.S. This is a critical and vulnerable time for right whale moms to bond with their calves - law requires staying away at least 500 yards by air (including drones) and by sea.

The protection of these animals is literally in the hands of all mariners on the water and all businesses that service those vessels. Stay educated, remain alert, and slow down while traveling through areas where right whales are found.

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Derecha's injured calf swims at the surface of the water with a visible injury on it's lip.

January 10

Biologists with Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research are heading out this morning in search of right whale mom "Derecha" and her injured newborn calf. Aerial and on-water survey teams from Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research were not able to find the pair yesterday. Biologists want to assess the calf's condition.

Mom and calf were first spotted Wednesday off the coast of Georgia by biologists with NOAA partner, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Experts say the calf's injuries were consistent with the propeller of a vessel.  Biologists will continue to search; to get up and out as weather permits.

In the meantime we ask anyone with information regarding the calf's injuries and additional sightings to contact (877) WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343).

NOAA urges everyone to please give these animals their space. Mom/calf pairs spend the majority of their time at, or a few feet below, the water's surface in the Southeast U.S. This is a critical and vulnerable time for right whale moms to bond with their calves. Law requires staying away at least 500 yards by air (including drones) and by sea.

The protection of these animals is literally in the hands of all mariners on the water and all businesses that service those vessels. Stay educated, remain alert, and slow down while traveling through areas where right whales are found. 

January 9

Teams with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research are out this morning (by air and sea) to try and find the mom/calf pair in order to assess the calf's condition.

NOAA is asking anyone with information regarding the calf's injuries and additional sightings to contact (877) WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343). The vessel that struck the animal may likely have propeller damage.

"Derecha" was first seen in December 1993. She is at least 27 years old. This is her fourth calf—she last gave birth in 2010.

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Right whale mother, "Derecha" swimming with her injured calf. 

Learn More About North Atlantic Right Whales 

Facing a variety of man-made threats, North Atlantic right whales were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1970. Once the right whale to hunt, these giants are now the right whales to save. Watch this video to learn more about endangered North Atlantic right whales:

    North Atlantic right whales are one of the world’s most endangered large whale species, with only about 450 remaining. NOAA has developed regulations for boaters and fishermen to help protect these whales from vessel collisions and entanglements. Learn more about regulations designed to protect right whales:

       

      Insight

      Understanding Vessel Strikes

      Learn how NOAA Fisheries works to reduce the threat of vessel collisions with marine animals.

      Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on January 27, 2020