Right Whale Calf Fatally Wounded By Boat, Aerial Search Locates Mom

The severe challenges faced by North Atlantic right whales, a critically-endangered species, was brought front and center in northeast Florida this week.

Whale Calf Killed By Boating Strike In Northeast Florida, Its Mother Also Injured

This year’s winter 2020-2021 North Atlantic Right Whale birthing season here at the Florida-Georgia border has been more promising this winter season with 15 calves identified to date. It’s the highest number of newborn calves sighted in the last six birthing seasons.

However, the severe challenges faced by this critically-endangered species was recently brought front and center in northeast Florida. In an awful turn of events, a right whale calf washed up on the beach in St. Augustine February 13th, fatally wounded by a boat strike (pictured above).

The calf’s mother had been previously identified as “Infinity,” Catalog #3230, when the pair were first sighted back on January 17, 2021 off Amelia Island’s shoreline, soon after the calf’s birth (pictured below).

North Atlantic Right Whale Infinity with newborn calf off Amelia Island, Florida, January 17, 2021. Photo by FWC.
North Atlantic Right Whale “Infinity” with newborn calf when first sighted off Amelia Island, FL Jan. 17, 2021
Search For Mom, Infinity

In the days following the strike, an air surveillance search was initiated to find the mom, Infinity. Four days later on February 16, 2021, she was sighted from NOAA aircraft swimming 27 miles off Cumberland Island, GA, with injuries. NOAA Fisheries reported that the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Clearwater Marine Aquarium documented “Infinity” alive. She was observed to have “two new cuts on her left side suggestive of a vessel strike.”

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “entanglement and vessel strikes are the leading causes of death for North Atlantic right whales.”

Boaters in these whale birthing waters should slow down to 10 knots, or slower. NOAA is urging “vessels of all sizes to please slow down and give these animals space. Mom-calf pairs spend the majority of their time at, or a few feet below, the water’s surface in the Southeast United States. They can be surprisingly difficult to see, especially in poor light or weather conditions.”

Also, mariners need to keep far away if they become aware of whales in their area. It is against federal law to approach within 500 yards of this critically-endangered species. Unfortunately, sometimes boaters don’t see them and/or are traveling at higher speeds and a collision occurs.

This boating collision with Infinity and her calf was reported by the captain of the sports fishing vessel who hit them on Friday evening, February 12, 2021. An investigation of the incident is ongoing. If anyone has information on this event, or if they see a dead or injured whale off Georgia or Florida, please radio the U.S. Coast Guard via VHF Channel 16, or call (877) WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5345).

Right Whales In Steep Decline

The New England Aquarium indicates “North Atlantic right whales are in steep decline. The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium report card population number for the end of 2019 stands at just 356. This subtracts the 10 known dead from the number released by NOAA of 366 for the beginning of 2019. In just the past five years, over 100 whales are estimated to have died,” stated an NEA news release issued last fall.

Related Content

See Amelia Island Living’s previously published article, “Winter Whales Spotted Around The Florida-Georgia Border,” (January 13, 2021).

Learn more about this winter’s North Atlantic right whale activity. Meet the moms and calves identified during the 2021 birthing season, see NOAA Fisheries’ website.