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North Atlantic right whale found dead off Martha’s Vineyard, officials say

Deceased female North Atlantic right whale near Joseph Sylvia State Beach on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic/NOAA Permit # 24359.

A juvenile North Atlantic right whale was found dead and apparently entangled in a rope off Martha’s Vineyard on Sunday, officials said.

The deceased female, which was estimated to be a juvenile because of her size, was located near Joseph Sylvia State Beach in Edgartown, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said in a statement Monday evening. The agency was notified that she was there Sunday afternoon.

NOAA Fisheries and the International Fund for Animal Welfare are working closely with Environmental Police, Edgartown police, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in coordinating the response, officials said.

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The Tribe and IFAW were able to secure the whale, NOAA Fisheries said. IFAW said it was putting a plan together for a necropsy.

The animal was found entangled in a rope near her tail around her peduncle, where the tail fluke connects to the whale’s body, NOAA Fisheries said.

“While we don’t know the cause of death yet, we know that entanglements can lead to long term suffering and death,” IFAW veterinarian Dr. Sarah Sharp, who is part of the team that went to Edgartown, said in a statement. “We also know that entanglements must be prevented to save this species from extinction.”

About 360 North Atlantic right whales remain, which includes less than 70 reproductively active females, NOAA Fisheries said. This whale is the 37th documented mortality since 2017, according to the statement.

“This death is even more troubling when it is a female calf that could have gone on to have many calves of her own for decades to come,” Gib Brogan, campaign director at Oceana, a nonprofit conservation group, said in a statement. “The recovery of North Atlantic right whales cannot take any more setbacks.”

North Atlantic right whales have been listed as endangered since 1970. The main threats to right whales are fishing gear entanglement and vessel strikes, as well as climate change, which affects “every aspect of their survival,” NOAA Fisheries said.

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“This death is another devastating reminder that North Atlantic right whales are plunging toward oblivion while federal officials fail to do enough to protect them,” Ben Grundy, oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “More information about this new incident is crucial, but even one human-caused death is unsustainable for a species this close to extinction, and these whales desperately need stronger safeguards.”

A right whale calf was spotted after it was likely sliced by a boat propeller earlier this month off South Carolina, causing injuries that NOAA said were likely fatal, the Globe reported.

Anyone who sees injured or stranded whales, dead or alive, should report their sighting and remain at least 150 feet away, NOAA Fisheries said. The sightings can be reported to the Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 866-755-6622 or the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-433-8299.


Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her @breannekovatch.