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Staccato’s story of resilience

© WDC, BREACH: LOGBOOK 24 | STACCATO by Courtney M. Leonard
© WDC, BREACH: LOGBOOK 24 | STACCATO by Courtney M. Leonard
© WDC, BREACH: LOGBOOK 24 | STACCATO by Courtney M. Leonard
© WDC, BREACH: LOGBOOK 24 | STACCATO by Courtney M. Leonard

Broken ribs

This February, the WDC team got the opportunity to visit an art exhibition about the life of Staccato (#1014), a North Atlantic right whale killed by a vessel strike in 1999. Vessel strikes and accidental entanglements in fishing gear are two of the biggest threats to critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

When Staccato’s skeleton was collected, a heartbreaking discovery was made. Five of her rib bones showed signs of a previous break, a wound consistent with a vessel strike. Staccato had to endure being struck by a vessel not once, but twice.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is one of Staccato’s rib bones.

© WDC, BREACH: LOGBOOK 24 | STACCATO by Courtney M. Leonard
© WDC, BREACH: LOGBOOK 24 | STACCATO by Courtney M. Leonard

Her bone is displayed in the middle of a large room with a spotlight shining down on it. As I studied her rib, it was hard to not think about the immense pain she was in because of 5 broken ribs and a long healing process. Her rib bones are an upsetting reminder that vessel strikes are a real and ongoing threat to North Atlantic right whales.

Staccato lives on through art and education. The exhibition serves as an opportunity to educate the public on this issue and, hopefully, motivate people to support legislation that would expand protections for this species.

The exhibition BREACH: LOGBOOK 24 | STACCATO by Courtney M. Leonard is located at the University Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Behind the scenes

Kate Doyle, who manages the vertebrae collections of the UMass Natural History Collections, gave us an exclusive look at the rest of Staccato’s skeleton.

Her skull sat in the middle of the room. The enormity of it made the small space feel even smaller. Yes, these animals are massive, but they still can’t compete with a large piece of metal running into, or over, them. Staccato’s 5 broken ribs show just how bad and deep vessel strike injuries can be.

Despite the anger I felt, being this close to Staccato, even in death, was inspiring.

© WDC, UMass Natural History Collections, skull of Staccato
© WDC, UMass Natural History Collections, skull of Staccato
© WDC, UMass Natural History Collections, skull of Staccato
© WDC, UMass Natural History Collections, skull of Staccato

Vessel strikes

The tragedy of vessel strikes in 1999 is still a tragedy in 2024.

Almost every day I write about North Atlantic right whales and vessel strikes. Just this year, a newborn calf was seen with injuries on the head, mouth, and left lip consistent with a vessel strike and did not survive. Another young right whale was found dead off the coast of Georgia with injuries that are consistent with blunt force trauma caused by a vessel strike. Each time we lose a female, we lose her future calves. The news of a tragic, and often deadly collision is disheartening because they are preventable.

© New England Aquarium, Staccato catalog #1014
© New England Aquarium, Staccato catalog #1014
© New England Aquarium, Staccato catalog #1014
© New England Aquarium, Staccato catalog #1014

Preventable deaths

Staccato’s story is a story of resilience but ultimately, a story of another preventable death. After seeing Staccato’s exhibition and full skeleton, I feel even more motivated to make sure these animals have a future of recovery and not extinction. I’m determined to believe that the story of North Atlantic right whales does not end in tragedy.

Vessel strike deaths are a direct consequence of inaction by policy makers to release a vessel speed rule. Inaction is inexcusable.

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