North Atlantic right whale found dead off Georgia coast marks second recent death of endangered species

North Atlantic right whale carcass

The carcass of a critically endangered whale species was towed to shore on Thursday after it was found floating approximately 20 miles off the coast of Georgia, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The North Atlantic right whale was found off Tybee Island – east of Savannah – and was identified as a female born last year, the NOAA said.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources spokesman Tyler Jones said the whale’s body was heavily scavenged by sharks, but scientists were hoping a necropsy would be able to determine how it died.

“It’s going to be a challenge to determine the cause of death because it’s been so heavily predated and decayed,” Jones said.


Carcass of North Atlantic right whale

A crew with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources assesses a dead juvenile North Atlantic right whale about 20 miles off Tybee Island, Georgia. (Georgia Department of Natural Resources via AP)

The discovery of the whale carcass floating off the Georgia coast comes more than two weeks after another young female right whale was found dead off Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Jan. 28. A necropsy of that whale found rope embedded in its tail similar to a type used in commercial fishing gear, the NOAA said.

“The death of two juvenile North Atlantic whales within three weeks of each other is heartbreaking and preventable,” Kathleen Collins, senior marine campaign manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in statement to the AP on Thursday. “The right whale graveyard off our eastern seaboard continues to grow and inaction from the administration is digging the graves.”


Female right whales make their way to the warmer parts of the Atlantic Ocean – off the southeastern coast of the U.S. – during the winter to give birth, but are vulnerable to collisions with ships and entanglements with fishing gear because they swim close to the surface.

Elevated fatalities and injuries in the species have been recorded since 2017, and the two recent deaths bring the total number of fatalities over the past seven years to 38. The NOAA said scientists believe there are now fewer than 360 North Atlantic right whales in existence, with the population falling about 25% from 2010 to 2020.

North Atlantic right whale swimming

The North Atlantic right whales have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1970. The rare species’ population declined by about 25% from 2010 to 2020. (David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

They have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1970.

Conservation groups have been working at passing tighter laws on vessel speed and commercial fishing in an effort to save the species. A lawsuit was filed in federal court on Tuesday urging the government to finalize rules that would expand zones off the East Coast where ships are required to slow down. The rules would also impact a wider range of vessels.

The push to protect the whales has come with opposition from some industries. A federal appeals court sided with commercial fisherman last year after they said proposed restrictions aimed at saving whales could put them out of business.

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