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From One Mother to Another

Georgia DNR - NOAA permit 18786-04

See the part that is sticking out? It isn't supposed to look like that.
Georgia DNR- NOAA Permit 18786-04

right whale calf injury_NOAA Fisheries_zoomed

To see the injury, look in the top right portion of the whale in this photo. The part that is lighter in color is a deep injury.

As soon as my heart rose with the news of a fourth right whale calf, it fell just as hard when I learned that this little one had already been critically injured in his or her first days of life. The propellers of a passing boat sliced the newborn’s head, possibly beyond repair. A NOAA biologist said that if he or she were a human baby, they would be in an Intensive Care Unit.

My heart aches for this calf’s mom, Derecha.  I have ridden in the back of an ambulance with both of my children at different times. I have held vigil at their bedsides in an ICU. I have been terrified.  My chest tightens just writing this because a mother never shakes that agony. It rewrites your DNA, and it is forever part of you.

I cannot pretend to understand the bond between Derecha and her child. I do not know if she understands the severity of her little one’s injury, but I need only to be reminded of Tahlequah to know she will be devastated if her baby does not survive.  For 17 days, Tahlequah, a Southern Resident orca, carried the body of her calf with her for over 1,000 miles. Her grief was visceral and agonizing. Her DNA is forever changed.

As a scientist, I know I’m not supposed to “anthropomorphize” and attribute human feelings or values to animals, but who am I to assume that grief, fear, joy, jealousy, anger, or even love, are gifted only to humans?  I have no doubts that my dogs get jealous when attention is not evenly distributed, nor do I question that they feel love, anxiety, and grief. Emotion is not exclusive to humans.

Since 2017, at least 30 endangered North Atlantic right whales have died by tragic and preventable accidents… either by being entangled in fishing gear or by being hit by passing boats. Over that same time period, just 12 calves were born. I started this right whale calving season counting calves, one….two… three… Derecha’s calf was number four.  I am no longer counting. This is not a time to count. This is a time to hold vigil for Derecha and her calf.

Derecha - Stay strong. I know from personal experience that miracles do happen. All of your fellow mothers are pulling for you.

Little one - Fight as hard as you can. Your mother won’t leave your side and we need you to be her miracle.

To stay informed about how you can help ensure a safer future for Derecha and her family, please consider joining our right whale first responder pledge.

For updates on Derecha's calf, NOAA is updating this page.

Derecha and calf copy

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