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This story was updated Dec. 21.
A 26-foot male North Atlantic right whale, estimated to be between 8 months to 1 year old, washed ashore just north of Beverly Beach overnight Tuesday — the first time on record a right whale has appeared on a Flagler County beach. The animal was reported dead in the water Tuesday by a boater a couple miles offshore.
“The boater reported it to Marine Resources Council, which was very important because it gave us a head start on getting prepared to work with the animal,” said Barb Zoodsma, of NOAA Fishery Services, on site Wednesday.
An entanglement was visible on the tail fin of the animal, with a buoy still attached. Although officials said this would be taken into account as outward evidence, as of Thursday evening, no official cause of death was determined.
With as few as 360 remaining, North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered whales in the world. The last reported right whale death in the Northeast was in 2011, off the coast of South Carolina.
“The reason this is so significant is because there are so few left,” said Allison Garrett, spokesperson for NOAA Fisheries. “One death is a big deal, and that’s why a lot of agencies are involved.”
NOAA was joined on site by representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Geological Survey, BC Marine Mammal Response Network, the Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station, University of Florida, HUBS Sea World Research and University of North Carolina Wilmington. After coordinating with the county to ensure that the environment would not be disturbed, the response team performed a necropsy. It will take a couple weeks for tests to be completed on tissue samples collected to determine the cause of death, officials said.
The necropsy wrapped up Wednesday evening as the sun went down, and the carcass was buried on the beach.
“No one will ever know we were here,” Zoodsma said.
North Atlantic right whales live along North America’s east coast, from Nova Scotia to Florida. From November to April every year, pregnant whales travel from Canada to the warm waters of the Southeast Atlantic Coast, where their calving ground is.
Last calving season, no North Atlantic right whale deaths were reported. In 2011, four deaths were reported, two in February and two in March. In the last five years, there have been 11 reported deaths.
Officials warn that to prevent extinction, people should know that approaching or remaining within 500 yards of a right whale is against federal law. Violations can result in civil or criminal penalties with fines up to $100,000. This applies to operators of all types of watercraft (motorized and non-motorized) and aircraft, as well as swimmers and divers.
NOAA Fisheries encourages people to report sightings of dead, injured or entangled whales to NOAA at 1-877-WHALE-HELP or 877-433-8299.
Currently 2 Responses
- was there a baby whale with the big right whale i was told they where trying to save a baby ??
Editors note: There was only one whale, it was a baby and dead before it washed up.
- So sad.
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