New Right Whale Calf, Hit by a Boat, Likely Will Die

The photo shows injuries on the head, mouth, and left lip consistent with a vessel strike. It was taken by Forever Hooked Charters of South Carolina.

By Lauri deGaris

The first North Atlantic right whale calf born this season has been struck by a small vessel. Juno’s calf, born on Nov. 28, 2023, was observed injured off the coast of Edisto Island, South Carolina, on Jan. 6.

The injuries are severe. Juno and her calf were first observed off the coast of Amelia Island on Dec. 9, 2023. On Jan. 6, 2024, NOAA Fisheries Southeast Region was notified of a North Atlantic right whale with propeller injuries. The injuries show wounds to the head, mouth and left lip and can interfere with the calf’s ability to nurse. The calf is likely to die because of the vessel strike.

Just six weeks ago, a full moon presided over the birth of this calf, the eighth calf born to Juno, a whale matriarch and grandmother who has experienced plenty of hard times. Her family has dealt with 28 entanglements and two – now three — vessel strikes.

This is the 35th “serious injury” since 2017 impacting North Atlantic right whales. This injury is part of the ongoing count of right whales that have been seriously injured, including 36 deaths, 35 serious injuries, and 51 sick or injured whales. All these events are human-related.

Mother and calf pairs are highly susceptible to vessel strikes, as they spend their time on the water’s surface.

Scientists have discovered that a boat near a mom and calf pair causes their behavior to change. Drones document behavior patterns between mom and calf without the intrusion of vessels nearby. Footage of dolphins and calves riding the wake produced by mom whales while moving through the water is observed. When using a drone to observe pairs, belly-to-belly bonding was observed, and dolphins were seen playing with whale calves. All this activity is taking place on the surface of the ocean. It is difficult to observe these extremely endangered whales when boating.

Vessels operating in the right whale calving zone, which extends from North Carolina to Florida, should post a dedicated observer when traveling through this region. Also, it is imperative that recreational vessels slow down to observe these gentle mammals successfully.

For small boaters with limited recreational time, moving fast across the water is the only way to squeeze in enough time on the water in an otherwise busy life. This artificial sense of urgency contributes to the extinction of a highly evolved mammal, our closest relation under the waves. It is heartbreaking that speeding across the open water is more important than killing a whale to some.

It is unknown if Juno is injured, currently. NOAA asks anyone with information regarding the calf’s injuries and additional sightings to contact (877) WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343). The vessel that struck the newborn whale may have damage.

2 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Mark Tomes
Noble Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago

The captains and owners of commercial sportsfishing boats have complained that, by including them in the same speed restrictions that larger vessels must comply with, it will reduce their ability to make profits in their trade and outrace quickly-developing squalls. Others have pointed out that the former are relying on a business model set in stone, and a change is possible. Right now, right whales are paying the price in supporting the sportsfishing industry.

Candis Whitney
Active Member
Candis Whitney(@candiswhitneygmail-com)
1 month ago

Excellent info about this tragic vessel strike.
we’ve heard “there’s not one chance in 1 million that I would hit a right Whale…“
The baby right whale would say “there is a 1 in 13 chance that I will be mortally injured or killed by a speeding boat.” This is based on fact… In recent years, every year there has been a right whale calf death caused by a vessel strike. 
Every right whale calf is vital to the preservation of this species.
How you can help…
Check out right whale websites for petitions and information regarding supporting vessel speed limits…
IFAW, Oceana, WDC, etc