A necropsy of a North Atlantic right whale carcass found floating near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on 27 August revealed that the animal most likely died from drowning after being entangled in fishing gear. This is the second confirmed right whale mortality in 2018, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
An endangered species, the North Atlantic right whale population suffered an approximate four percent drop in 2017, when officials found 17 deceased animals. There were an estimated 450 North Atlantic right whales in existence as of last year, with only about 100 females of breeding age in the population, NOAA said.
The young male right whale discovered near Martha’s Vineyard last month was about a year-and-a-half old, reckoned scientists, and was likely one of five calves reportedly born over the 2016-2017 season. Although the animal was moderately decomposed and parts of its carcass were missing, NOAA’s necropsy team was able to document 11 lesions, including several linear depressions and bruises consistent with line entanglement, especially around the right flipper. Shark predation signs were also noted on the carcass, and appear to have been incurred post-mortem, the scientists said.
Further analysis is being conducted on the whale’s various tissues and organs collected during the necropsy, to screen for any signs of infection or disease. Scientists remain fairly convinced, however, that the whale’s cause of death is consistent with entanglement. No gear was present on the animal’s body at the time of inspection, the necropsy team confirmed.
In 2017, NOAA Fisheries declared the increase in right whale mortalities an “Unusual Mortality Event.” The declaration has aided the agency in directing additional scientific and financial resources to the cause in partnership with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and outside experts from the scientific research community.