Right whale mother found dead off Virginia, calf’s future in doubt

NOAA Fisheries reports there are known to only be around 360 North Atlantic right whales left in existence. Since 2017, the species has been experiencing an Unusual Mortality Event, with the mammals dying faster than they can reproduce. Marine biologists estimate the species needs to produce 50 or more calves a year to stop the decline.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – A 36-year-old North Atlantic right whale, who had given birth to a calf around the New Year, was found dead off the coast of Virginia, with biologists concerned that the calf will likely not survive without its mother.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports the whale, known as Catalog #1950, was found Wednesday about 50 miles off the coast of Virginia with injuries consistent with a vessel strike.

The whale was last spotted with her calf on Feb. 16 off the coast of Florida, but without its mother’s care, the FWC said it will likely result in a double loss for the species.

The newborn was thought to be the mother’s sixth calf since her first birth in 1997.

The marine animals spend most of their time off the coast of Canada and the Northeast before migrating around 1,000 miles southward for the calving season.


The fatality marks at least the fourth death found off the Southeast this year.

On Jan. 28, a 3-year-old right whale washed ashore Martha’s Vineyard and was reported to be entangled in fishing gear. And on two separate occasions, the carcasses of juveniles were found along beaches in Georgia - both with injuries consistent with vessel strikes.

According to the New England Aquarium, human endangerment remains the greatest threat to the mammals, with entanglements in fishing gear, vessel strikes, and climate change all leading causes of mortality.

Since 2017, North Atlantic right whales have been experiencing an Unusual Mortality Event, with the mammals dying faster than they can reproduce.


Marine biologists estimate the whales need to produce 50 or more calves annually to stop the species’ regression.

"Even if right whales were thriving, just a single whale’s death due to human causes would be a tragedy. With right whales facing extinction, it’s even more devastating. From using ropeless fishing gear to stopping ship collisions, there is no shortage of steps we can take to protect these amazing creatures. We must take action before we lose these whales forever," Elly Wilson, the state director of Environment Virginia, said in a statement. 

To report a right whale sighting from along the Southeast Coast, call the volunteer sighting network at 888-979-4253 or the NOAA Fisheries hotline at 877-942-5343.