ANASTASIA ISLAND, Fla. – A right whale calf washed up Saturday on the shore of Anastasia State Park beach. Marine biologists, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office were at the scene Saturday evening.
Crews were studying the whale and prepared to move it off the beach out of the tide zone.
The calf, born to mother Infinity, was 22 feet, 4 inches long.
Jim Hain, the chief scientist at the Marineland Right Whale Project, told News4Jax the whale was struck around dusk Friday night by a boat, which was damaged by the impact and grounded.
Hain said they don’t know where the mother is.
The whale was not found on the Anastasia State Park beach until Saturday morning.
Right whales are endangered and are closely tracked from the time they are born. Scientists believe there are less than 400 left.
At least 14 calves have been spotted so far this season, all from different mothers. The whales typically come down to the Northeast Florida shoreline from November through March for calving season, where they nurse and strengthen their calves.
This is also a time when they tend to get accidentally struck by boats.
“We’re hoping for good calf production and a low mortality rate,” Hain said. “When something like this happens, it’s like a gut punch.”
“They stay so close to shore and people often see them, you know, passing by,” said Blair Mase, Southeast Region Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator with NOAA. “It just really is a devastating impact. And, you know, each one that occurs, unfortunately, impact the future population.”
Biologists studied the growth and characteristics of the whale Saturday to hopefully prevent events like this happening in the future.
“It’s like putting a red light at an intersection or a speed zone at a school zone,” Hain said. “It’s humans that are killing right whales, so we’re trying to make human education change human behavior.”
The whale has been moved to a little trench made out of sand until biologists can come back Sunday to do a necropsy, which is an autopsy on a whale.
The chief scientist at the scene said this was the first vessel collision death of the year.
If you see a right whale, you are encouraged to call 877-WHALE HELP. And legally, boats must stay 500 yards from any right whale they spot.