A rare and endangered North Atlantic right whale calf is expected to die after suffering severe head and mouth injuries, likely from a boat propeller, off the coast of South Carolina.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the injured 2-month-old calf, one of only nine born this year, is “likely to die” because the injuries “may impact this calf’s ability to nurse successfully."
The calf was spotted on Jan. 3, and videos on social media obtained by NOAA revealed several propeller wounds on its head, mouth, and left lip, suggesting it was hit by a vessel.
The videos also helped identify the whale as the calf of Juno, the first documented right whale mom this season, that was last seen with the calf off Amelia Island, Florida, on Dec. 9. It's unclear if Juno is injured as well as she is no longer swimming with the calf.
"This is the 35th 'serious injury' case in the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event impacting North Atlantic right whales. The UME began in 2017 and has documented 122 individuals so far, including this calf: 36 dead, 35 seriously injured, and 51 otherwise sick or injured whales," the NOAA said in a press release.
Authorities say they have not been able to locate the person or vessel that caused the injury to the animal and are urging the public to call (877) WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343) if they have any information. NOAA says that the vessel that struck the animal could still show some damage.
With a declining population and only 70 breeding females, the North Atlantic right whales are nearing extinction, and their main causes of death include fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes in U.S. and Canadian waters.