A right whale that was struck by a yacht off the Georgia coast in March appears to be dying from that injury.
A tuna spotter sighted a "tired and battered" right whale off the northern tip of Cape Cod late last week. The whale was emaciated and lethargic, with skin that looked gray, rather than a healthy black, and a chunk was missing from its left tail fluke.
Experts identified it as Right Whale No. 2425, the 11-year-old female that was struck by the propeller of a 43-foot yacht near Cumberland Island Georgia on March 10.
At the time of the strike, researchers were hopeful the whale might survive the injury, which consisted of a torn, though not severed tail. O.her whales in a similar condition have survived,
Trouble on Cape Cod Bay, local captain fined by NOAA
Whale Watch tours on Cape Cod have felt the the pressure of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to stay clear of the very species they are seeking. A story this month in the Boston Globe poinetd to the problem. Local skippers are convinced that whales and their fans can coexist to mutual benefit. But a recent fine levied against a Capt. John Boats skipper for coming too close to a whale shows how difficult it can be to observe the letter of federal rules to protect whales while bringing passengers near enough for a memorable experience.
NOAA, recently fined vessel captain Sean Baker $3,500 for ''failing to comply with right whale avoidance measures by coming within 500 yards of a right whale, and failing to immediately leave the area" in an incident off Cape Cod two years ago.
The right whale presently off the cape is a different story. "We assumed that if it didn't bleed out it would be OK," said Clay George, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "Other whales in the photo ID catalog have received similar trauma (and survived)." Mr. George said the whale had been sighted many times after the strike as she made her way from the calving grounds off Georgia to the feeding area north of Cape Cod.
She was initially spotted swimming with another adult right whale. Strangely, she was sighted again last week in the company of an healthy humpback whale. This behavior is odd, said Amy Knowlton, a research scientist at the New England Aquarium. "Perhaps it was just an animal curious about a slow moving animal," she said, but recent years has not been good for this tiny population.
8 adult whale, 3 of them pregant females died in last 16 months
In addition to No. 2425, eight adult whales, including six females, three of them pregnant, have died in the last 16 months. Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium, said No. 2425 was probably dying from a systemic infection stemming from the injury in March. "This animal looks near death," he said.
Orange patches on the whale's back indicate an infestation of whale lice that are unable to build up on a healthy, fast-swimming whale. He likened the loss of her tail fluke to the partial amputation of a leg. Knowlton, who was surprised the whale was in such poor condition, speculated that she weakened as she traveled back north, still bleeding. Whales don't eat when they're in their winter calving grounds. The New England Aquarium is calling for tighter restrictions on boat speeds in areas where whales are known to be.
"There's little we can do for this animal," LaCasse said. "What this speaks to is the need for speed restrictions in areas where we have right whales." Such restrictions have been proposed in the National Marine Fisheries Service Right Whale Management Plan, but that plan has been slow to come to fruition, according to LaCasse.
New speed limits for shipping lane proposed
The calving areas off north Florida and southern Georgia are a good example of the immediate need for tighter rules, he said. "There's a good chance this could've been avoided if we had speed restrictions in that area." Only last month the Canadian Government along with scientists from the New England Aquarium recommended speed zones to protect these gentle giants.
Moira Brown of the New England Aquarium in Boston says the Canadian government's decision to alter shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy has helped the right whale, but the U.S. government has not yet acted on recommendations for ocean speed limits and shipping lane changes. Read the report here.