Whale thought to be just a “day or two old” found dead under North Carolina pier as its species is “approaching extinction”


Another whale of the heavily endangered North Atlantic right whale species has been found dead. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday that the whale, found in North Carolina on Jan. 7, was a newborn who was last seen swimming without its mother. 

The last time the right whale calf was seen alive was on Jan. 3, when NOAA said that a member of the public reported seeing the calf swimming by itself near the shore of Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. An aerial survey team attempted to find an adult whale nearby that could be its mother, but no other whales were found in the area. 

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The lone right whale calf swims underneath the Morehead City port pier. In this photo, the calf is trapped between two oyster-covered pillars under the pier. The tip of its head is visible above the water line and the rest of its body is submerged. 

Jay W. Boone/NOAA


Experts who responded to the calf sighting said that the baby boy appeared to be underweight and “in relatively poor health,” NOAA said.

The next time people would come across this calf was four days later, when he was discovered dead under a pier near Morehead City, just south of the Outer Banks. NOAA said that a stranding response team conducted a necropsy on the calf on Jan. 8. 

It was initially thought that the whale might have been a few weeks old when it was seen swimming alone. But necropsy results suggest that he was actually “only a day or two old” at the time of his death. Researchers garnered samples during the necropsy to try and find the calf’s mother through genetic analysis.

So far it’s not known what caused the whale’s death. The necropsy didn’t reveal any findings of entanglement or a vessel strike, but newborn whales generally cannot survive long without their mothers. 

The latest information on the deceased newborn came just days after NOAA detected another young whale off the North Carolina coast that was heavily entangled. That 4-year-old whale, identified as #4904, was seen about 20 miles off the coast of Rodanthe in the Outer Banks. 

Because of the entanglement, NOAA also saw “numerous wounds across her body and whale lice on her head, and said that her “serious injury” means that she is “likely to die.” Researchers have since been attempting to find her. 

The most recent discoveries among the young right whales come as the species “is approaching extinction,” NOAA said. There are believed to be fewer than 350 individual North Atlantic right whales remaining and fewer than 100 females who are reproductively active. The species has been undergoing an unusual mortality event since 2017, during which time 94 whales have been seriously injured, obtained a sublethal injury or illness, or died. 



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