Critically Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale Calf Seriously Injured By Vessel Strike Off The Coast Of South Carolina

Injured North Atlantic right whale 2024 calf of Juno (#1612) seen with injuries. Credit: Forever Hooked Charters of South Carolina

On January 6th, NOAA Fisheries Southeast Region was notified about a North Atlantic right whale with an injured two-month-old calf off the coast of Edisto, South Carolina. The calf was seen on January 3rd after videos were shared by the public on social media showing several propeller wounds on its head, mouth, and left lip consistent with a vessel strike. These injuries may impact this calf’s ability to nurse successfully.

After reviewing this case, NOAA Fisheries’ biologists made a preliminary determination that it meets the criteria of a “serious injury.” Sadly, this means that the whale is likely to die as a result. NOAA stated that they will continue to work with authorized responders to monitor this calf and further document its injuries. This is the 35th “serious injury” case in the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event (UME) impacting North Atlantic right whales. The UME began in 2017 and has documented 122 individual whales so far, 36 of which have been found dead, 35 seriously injured, and 51 otherwise sick or injured whales.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and New England Aquarium used the videos collected by the public to identify the whales as Juno (#1612) and her calf. Juno was the first documented right whale mom of the season, and was initially seen with her calf on November 28th, 2023, off the coast of Georgetown, South Carolina. The mom and calf were last seen prior to the injury on December 9th, 2023, off the coast of Amelia Island, Florida. It is unknown at this time if Juno is also injured. Mother-calf pairs are at heightened risk of vessel strikes because they spend nearly all their time at or close to the water’s surface, but are difficult to see.

According to the Center For Biological Diversity, with a declining population and only 70 breeding females, North Atlantic right whales will almost certainly go extinct without key conservation measures. Current regulations are not sufficient to protect them, and changes proposed by NOAA Fisheries are unlikely to go into effect before the end of this year’s calving season.

“Right whale calves are a crucial sign of hope and recovery for the species, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking that one has been hit by a vessel,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center. “What makes this tragedy even worse is that the whale calf could have been saved by a speed-limit rule like the one we’ve been pushing for. The federal government keeps dragging its feet at the expense of these critically endangered whales.”

If we don’t act fast, we could see a large whale species go extinct in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in centuries. The U.S. and Canadian government must stand united in efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales from collisions with ships and entanglements in fishing gear.

Please tell your federal government officials to take immediate action to protect North Atlantic right whales from extinction by signing Oceana’s petition, HERE!

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 could have damage.

Please report any sightings of right whales that are injured or entangled to NOAA. Please take photos or videos from the legally required 500-yard distance and note the GPS coordinates to share with biologists.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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