The fourth documented right whale calf of the season has already been injured off the coast of Georgia, according to Florida wildlife officials.
NOAA said its partner, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, spotted the calf about 8 nautical miles off the Georgia coast on Wednesday and could tell that the calf was injured.
Experts say the calf’s two roughly parallel and s-shaped injuries were consistent with the propeller of a vessel.
NOAA said 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.
The calf’s mother is “Derecha” (right whale No. 2360), who was first seen in December 1993. She is at least 27 years old. This is her fourth calf. She last gave birth in 2010.
Teams with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research were out Thursday morning by air and sea to try to find the mom and calf to assess the calf’s condition.
NOAA asked anyone with information regarding the calf’s injuries and additional sightings to contact 1-877-WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5343). The vessel that struck the animal may likely have propeller damage.
NOAA urges everyone to please give these animals their space. Mom and 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, and law requires staying at least 500 yards away 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,” NOAA said. “Stay educated, remain alert, and choose wisely how you operate your vessel while traveling through a whale neonatal center.”