Female North Atlantic right whale found dead off coast of Virginia

North Atlantic right whale #1950 was found dead off the coast of Virginia.
North Atlantic right whale #1950 was found dead off the coast of Virginia | Photo courtesy of NOAA
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Another North Atlantic right whale has been found dead in U.S. waters.

The whale was found 30 March 2024 by representatives of HDR Inc. who were conducting Mid-Atlantic whale surveys for the U.S. Navy. The whale was floating approximately 50 miles offshore east of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in the U.S. state of Virginia, according to NOAA. It was identified as adult female #1950, a six-time mother with a feeding calf born over the winter. Her calf was not seen in the vicinity of the carcass.

“Unfortunately, this whale is the 40th mortality in the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event impacting North Atlantic right whales,” NOAA said. “Her calf is also considered a seriously injured dependent calf in the Unusual Mortality Event due to the death of its mother.”

The whale has been towed ashore and a necropsy is being performed, but NOAA said there had been significant deterioration of the carcass. No cause of death has yet been announced. 

NOAA declared the beginning of the North Atlantic Right Whale Unusual Mortality Event in 2017, and since then has documented the deaths of 40 whales, serious injuries to 34 whales, and 51 otherwise sick or injured whales.

Center for Biological Diversity Senior Attorney Catherine Kilduff criticized the U.S. government for not implemented a proposed rule that would expand speed restrictions to vessels between 35 and 65 feet long. The current rule applies some speed limitations to vessels 65 feet and longer.

“Far too many North Atlantic right whales are dying while politicking is delaying a ship-speed rule to help this desperately endangered species,” Kilduff said. “The loss of yet another breeding female, especially one with a young calf, is heartbreaking. We’re seeing death after death, but the federal government is doing next to nothing and ignoring its legal obligation to protect right whales.”

Oceana Campaign Director Gib Brogan echoed the call for more restrictive speed limitations.

“There are now at least seven dead North Atlantic right whales in just three short months. The death of right whale #1950 is just the latest tragedy facing this species as it swims on the edge of extinction along the East Coast of the United States and Canada,” Brogan said. “While we wait for the necropsy results, we also know it will likely have deadly consequences for the mother’s newborn calf, born just this winter, which cannot survive on its own. These whales are not dying because of natural causes. They are dying preventable deaths as a result of collisions with boats and entanglements in fishing gear, and our government isn’t doing anything to stop it. How many more deaths must this endangered species face before President Bident takes action? President Biden: it’s time to take the conservation of right whales seriously and issue the proposed updates to the 2008 vessel speed rule immediately. President Biden has an opportunity and responsibility to act and make the recovery of the North Atlantic right whale part of his enduring legacy.”

The whale was the second dead right whale found in March. NOAA announced a right whale calf was found dead after being struck by a vessel some time in early 2024. Another right whale death in January was attributed to entanglement in fishing gear, which investigators later determined originated in the lobster fishery

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