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© Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #24359. Aerial survey funded by United States Army Corps of Engineers.

Conservation Groups Decry Yet Another Preventable Right Whale Death

April 2, 2024 - Contact: Regina Asmutis-Silvia, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, (508) 451-3853, [email protected] Jeremy...

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© Forever Hooked Charters of South Carolina, injured North Atlantic right whale 2024 calf of Juno (#1612) seen with injuries on the head, mouth, and left lip consistent with vessel strike.

Conservation groups continue bid to lift stay in right whale vessel speed rule case

March 15, 2024 - Contact: Regina Asmutis-Silvia, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, (508) 451-3853, [email protected] Catherine...

Critically endangered North Atlantic right whale found dead off Georgia’s coast

February 13, 2024 —

On February 13, a North Atlantic right whale was reported dead off the coast of Georgia. The whale was identified as female, born to first-time mother Pilgrim during the 2022-2023 calving season.  

While the loss of any right whale is devasting, the loss of this little one is particularly heartbreaking. Our WDC crew first met Pilgrim 11 years ago on a cold, January day, less than three miles from our office. We received a report of a pilot whale in distress in Plymouth’s outer harbor and upon arrival on a boat, WDC’s crew was stunned to find a mother and calf right whale.  

"I remember calling NOAA’s right whale hotline to report the sighting, only to immediately get a call back to double-check I had reported a mother and newborn right whale calf because calves are born in the Southeast US, not in Cape Cod Bay. I remember the smile plastered on my face in awe of what I was seeing, the tiny whale, so small that she still had no callosities on her little shoe-horned shaped head," said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDC-NA executive director. 

© WDC, Taken under authorization of NOAA/NMFS
© WDC, Taken under authorization of NOAA/NMFS

The excitement only continued when researchers from the Center for Coastal Studies identified the mom as Wart, a whale last seen entangled several years before, but now free of gear and a proud mom. At the time, there were questions as to whether this little calf would survive. Thankfully, "Pilgrim," her namesake given her first sightings in Plymouth’s harbor, was seen each and every year since she was born. 

At 10 years old, Pilgrim brought her legacy full circle when she returned to Cape Cod Bay with her very first calf of her own. The hope and promise for the species laying on the shoulders of this little female who would need to survive the labyrinth of vessels and fishing gear for 10 years until she was old enough to have a calf herself.  

"Getting to see Pilgrim and her calf in Cape Cod Bay last spring was magical. It filled us with so much hope to see Pilgrim as a first-time mom, giving birth to one of only 12 calves born that season," said Asmutis-Silvia. 

Pilgrim and her calf in Cape Cod Bay on April 9, 2023 © New England Aquarium Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Taken Under NOAA Permit #21371
Pilgrim and her calf in Cape Cod Bay on April 9, 2023 © New England Aquarium Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Taken Under NOAA Permit #21371

This story of hope came to a devastating end when NOAA reported a dead whale approximately 20 miles southeast of Tybee Island, Georgia on February 14th. Heavily scavenged by sharks, the carcass was identified as the one-year-old daughter of Pilgrim.

© Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit 24359. Funded by NOAA Fisheries and Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
© Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit 24359. Funded by NOAA Fisheries and Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

So far in 2024, five North Atlantic right whales have been reported dead or critically injured. In addition to this whale, #5120, another juvenile female was found dead earlier this month, likely due to a chronic entanglement in fishing gear. Juno’s 2024 calf was struck by a vessel in January, and both Half Note and #3780 have been seen without their newborns who are missing and presumed dead. 

"We are just six weeks into the New Year and have already seen the consequences of inaction by policy makers to address the two biggest threats facing right whales," said Asmutis-Silvia. "Each time we lose a female, we lose her future calves."

Since 2020, at least 30 North Atlantic right whales have died or been injured from known entanglements and 9 have died or been injured by vessel strikes. The 17 new calves of the 2023-2024 North Atlantic right whale calving season bring hope for the future, but the survival of this species is in constant danger of human-made threats. 

WDC is working to prevent accidental entanglements through supporting efforts to trial on-demand fishing gear which removes entangling line from the water while allowing fishing communities to thrive. In addition, we are strongly urging the Department of Commerce to release an expanded vessel strike speed rule that will keep both whales and boaters safe in our waters. 

With a population of fewer than 360 individuals, each whale lost is a tragedy for the species and our planet. Whales play a vital role in providing a solution to the climate emergency. We need to save the whales to save the world. 

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