• Dawn Sabato

Marine Mammal Experts Come Together in Attempt to Save North Atlantic Right Whale Calf

Marine Mammal Experts, Including SeaWorld, Come Together in Attempt to Save Critically Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale Calf

Photos of whales credit: FWC All photos Under NOAA permit 18786-04


Fernandina Beach, FL (January 17) --   A team located a female North Atlantic right whale and her injured right whale calf off Fernandina Beach, Florida yesterday afternoon. Biologists didn't want to get too close until verifying this was the mom/calf pair. An aerial support crew soon provided confirmation and on-water assessment, giving the on-site veterinarians, including SeaWorld’s Dr. Hendrik Nollens, enough information to determine that antibiotics would benefit this whale. The team was able to remotely administer the drugs with the hopes of staving off infection. Now biologists will continue to monitor the calf during routine aerial surveys. The calf’s prognosis remains poor. 


Aerial photos and video are allowing medical and whale experts a chance to examine changes in the wounds and assess the calf's overall behavior, condition, and health over time.


This was a huge effort made possible by many experts from partner agencies all over the country including the  field teams made up of FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the Wildlife Resources Division - Georgia DNR, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, SeaWorld, Blue World Research Institute and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and external consultants from across the country that provided technical assessment of the injuries.


January 13:  Efforts to monitor and assess a critically endangered and seriously injured North Atlantic right whale calf are underway by a team of marine mammal experts, including SeaWorld, off the east coast of Florida.   The calf is just one of four born this calving season to a population of whales believed to number less than 430 individuals, a number critically low to sustain the species, and making the survival of every whale imperative. 


The approximately week old calf has significant wounds consistent with a vessel strike. The injuries are concerning because of the severity and location of the wounds. One of the injuries appears to include damage to the calf's mouth which could hamper its ability to nurse and feed.


SeaWorld’s Dr. Hendrik Nollens is one of the lead veterinarians on the mission, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Georgia Department of Natural


ResourcesIFAW and Blue World Research Institute (BWRI).   The current plan is to locate the mother and calf pair and obtain images in order to update the assessment of the calf's injuries, condition and behavior.  Antibiotics may be delivered if warranted. 


North Atlantic right whales migrate from the waters off New England and Nova Scotia to the waters off the coast of Florida and Georgia during the winter for a calving season.   The two most significant threats to the survival of these whales are vessel strikes and entanglement in fixed fishing gear. This past December the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund announced it had committed $900,000 in the fight to save this critically endangered species.  In partnership with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) the funding will be primarily used to test alternative non-lethal fishing gear to help avoid these fatal entanglements.


NOAA urges everyone to please give these animals their space. Mom/calf pairs spend the majority of their time at, or a few feet below the water's surface in the Southeast U.S. This is a critical and vulnerable time for right whale moms to bond with their calves - law requires staying away at least 500 yards by air (including drones) and by sea.


For updates on the calf: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/…/north-atlantic-right-whale…

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