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North Atlantic Right Whale Found Dead Near Martha's Vineyard
September 3, 2018

Update - 9/8/2018: The results of a necropsy conducted on August 30th have been released. Researchers found that the whale 'most likely died as a result of being entangled in gear and drowning'. The Greater Atlantic Region of the NOAA stated in their press release that the 'male right whale was approximately 9 meters (30 feet) in length, which would make the whale about a year and a half old, and likely was one of the five calves born over the 2016-2017 season.' This is just devastating to the species as it could mean that one of the five whales born over the past two years, who had been such a cause of celebration and hope in the face of many deaths, is now dead. There was no gear present on the whale, and 'while this whale was moderately decomposed and parts of the carcass were missing, the necropsy team documented 11 lesions, including several linear depressions and bruises that are consistent with entanglement in line, particularly around the right flipper.' The two known deaths of North Atlantic right whales in 2018 are now both attributed to entanglement. This means that the fishing industry is in clear violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act as the Potential Biological Removal number - the amount of whales that can be killed before it threatens the long-term viability of the population - is technically less than 1 meaning that even one death can have an effect. Two deaths is a clear violation of the law and we call on the government to finally start applying and enforcing the law by shutting down the commercial fishing industry until significant changes can be made to protect these whales. Some might say this is extreme or unrealistic but when enforcing landmark federal legislation designed to protect sacred life on this earth is viewed as extreme and unrealistic, it's a sign that things have gotten out of control and that the rule of law must be restored.

Researcher taking samples of whale

Tim Cole from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center taking tissue samples from the whale
Photo: U.S. Coast Guard under NMFS Permit #18786-02

A North Atlantic right whale has been found dead in waters near Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. This is at least the second North Atlantic right whale death this year, with the first occurring in late January of this year off the coast of Virginia and is at least the 19th death of a North Atlantic right whale in the past year. The whale was first seen dead on Saturday, August 25 about five miles south of the 'Hooter', a buoy about three miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, by a family out fishing who also saw at least one shark taking bites of the dead whale. They didn't report the whale and they left the area after staying for only eight minutes. Anyone who finds a dead whale is supposed to hail the Coast Guard and wait for them to arrive before leaving the area. This could have enabled researchers to get a better idea of the identity of the whale and the cause of death, which is extremely important.

The whale was first reported to the US Coast Guard Sunday near Tom’s Neck Point on the southeast corner of the Vineyard and was seen again over the next couple of days but was difficult to locate due to currents around the islands. The whale was located again on Tuesday and scientists from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) in Woods Hole were escorted to the site that evening by the Coast Guard to attach a solar-powered satellite tag to monitor the location of the whale and collect tissue samples to send to a right whale DNA bank at Trent University in Canada. Researchers from the NOAA said towing the whale to shore for a necropsy was not possible due to how badly the whale was decomposed.

While we do not know the exact cause of death for this whale, it is usually caused by humans. There are only around 430 North Atlantic right whales left and with 19 deaths in the past year, only 5 births in 2017 and none this year, the situation is dire. However, there are many things we can do to help these whales. To learn more about what is happening to North Atlantic right whales, please visit our Facts section and to see all the ways we can help them please visit our Action section. If we find out more about the identity or cause of death of this whale we will make an update to this post.

Shark feeds on whale carcass off Vineyard - Cape Cod Times
Dead Right Whale Found Off Chappaquiddick - Vineyard Gazette
Satellite tag attached to decomposing right whale carcass - Cape Cod Times
Family witnessed shark chomping on whale carcass off Martha’s Vineyard - Boston Globe