Searchers locate right whale whose calf was killed in boat strike

One plane was off coast of St. Johns County and other was off coast of Southeast Georgia

Two spotter planes on Tuesday searched for a right whale whose calf was killed in a boat strike last week.

One of the planes was off the coast of St. Johns County, while the other was off the coast of Southeast Georgia. The whale -- named Infinity -- was located in Georgia with the same injuries as the calf.

The right whale calf, possibly 2 months old, washed up Saturday on the shore of Anatasia State Park beach. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the necropsy, or animal autopsy, showed wounds consistent with having been hit by a boat propeller. According to FWC, the wounds were so deep that the 22-foot calf’s skull and rib bones were fractured.

Tom Pitchford, a wildlife biologist with the FWC, said a NOAA aircraft with observers from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium spotted Infinity about 25 miles off of Cumberland Island.

The boat that struck the right whale is now at the St. Augustine Marine Center. Pitchford said that boat would’ve sunk if the captain didn’t ground it on a sandbar. A boater told News4Jax the sandbar was near The Conch House Restaurant.

Michael Schuster said he was at the Conch House when rescue crews were sent out to help the boaters on Friday night.

“We saw all the police boats there, and we could see the fishing boat,” Schuster recalled.

Pitchford says people need to remain aware of their surroundings when they’re in a boat, especially during right whale calving season.

“The advice we would give is to slow down, especially when the surface is bumpy,” Pitchford said.

The mother and baby were first spotted together in January off Amelia Island.

North Atlantic right whales are endangered, and researchers estimate there are less than 400 left.

At least 14 calves, all from different mothers, have been spotted so far this calving season, which begins in November runs through April.

Right whales usually migrate south along the Georgia and Florida coastline to give birth to their calves. Every fall, right whales can travel up to 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds up north to the shallow calving waters down south. They stay there through the winter months to give birth.

The whales tend to swim close to shore and tend to stay by the surface, making them susceptible to being struck by vessels and caught up in fishing nets.

If you see a right whale, it’s important to give the animal space -- 500 yards to be exact. In addition, you’re encouraged to report the sighting by calling 1-877-WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5343).

About the Author:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.