The 4-year-old calf was spotted entangled and injured off Sea Bright, New Jersey on Oct. 11

By Eric Todisco
October 20, 2020 03:39 PM
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Credit: John Carrington/Savannah Morning News/AP

A 4-year-old whale that was recently found entangled and injured off the coast of New Jersey has a surprising connection to another whale that was presumed dead earlier this year from similar injuries.

According to The New England Aquarium, the male North Atlantic right whale, spotted off Sea Bright, N.J. by a whale watch boat on Oct. 11, has been identified by researchers as #4680.

Researchers have discovered that #4680 is actually the calf of Dragon (#3180), a 19-year-old female whale who was last seen off Nantucket in late February after she was severely entangled with a buoy lodged in her mouth.

According to the aquarium, Dragon is presumed to be dead.

"To have two members of the same right whale family become severely entangled in the same year highlights the entanglement threat that right whales are facing every day," said Amy Knowlton, a senior scientist with the aquarium’s right whale team.

Before the October entanglement, the calf, who was identified by scientists who cross-checked the aquarium’s Right Whale Catalog, was last spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada on June 26 and again on July 7.

Credit: Thomas Sbampato/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

Researchers initially struggled to match the calf, the aquarium said, due to the physical effects of the entanglement and the whale not lifting his head far out of the water. The identification was made possible thanks to photos from Nick Hawkins, a photojournalist who has been documenting right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence since 2018.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) officials are currently trying to work on a disentanglement plan for the calf, who has not been seen since Sunday the aquarium said.

Dragon, last seen in late February, was reportedly emaciated with unhealthy looking skin when she was discovered by a team of scientists off Nantucket. The scientists said the buoy preventing her mouth from closing was likely the main cause of her condition.

According to the aquarium, Dragon had three calves, the third of which was born in 2016 and is the one entangled in New Jersey. Her first calf, whom she gave birth to at age 7, died within a week of unknown causes, while the second calf was born two years later.

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Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a blog post, "Once a prized target of whaling fleets, right whales are being driven toward extinction by the twinned threats of being struck by ships and complex entanglement in heavy commercial fishing gear and fishing line. What humanity refused to let nineteenth and twentieth century whaling fleets do, inaction by the U.S. government and other parties is threatening to accomplish."

The Humane Society of the United States is currently calling on Congress to pass the SAVE Right Whales Act, intended to meet the threat to these remarkable creatures with even more dedicated resources. The bill would authorize $5 million per year over the next decade for research designed to ensure that fishing and shipping interests develop the technology to safely share the ocean with right whales.