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Right whale found dead had been studied by researchers for decades

The North Atlantic right whale  known as “Punctuation” swam with a calf off the coast of Georgia in 2009.
The North Atlantic right whale known as “Punctuation” swam with a calf off the coast of Georgia in 2009.New England Aquarium

The North Atlantic right whale that was found floating dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada on Thursday was a female whose movement and offspring had been studied by researchers for decades, according to a statement from the New England Aquarium.

The whale, known as #1281 or “Punctuation” because scarring on her head looked like dashes and commas, was first photographed in the Great South Channel in 1981, and was sighted more than 250 times throughout the Eastern Seaboard of Canada and the United States, the statement said.

The North Atlantic right whale is among the most endangered animals on the planet, and Punctuation’s passing marks the second death for the species this month.

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“All right whale deaths hit hard, but this one is particularly devastating to the population — she was a reproductive female — and to researchers who have studied her for nearly 40 years,” the aquarium said in a statement.

Researchers hope Punctuation’s body can be brought ashore so that a cause of death can be determined. Understanding what leads to the deaths of right whales is “essential to evaluating and improving management and conservation efforts aimed at saving this species,” according to the aquarium.

Punctuation had scars from five separate entanglements and two small vessel strikes, authorities said. She had eight calves, her first in 1986 and her last in 2016. One of her calves was struck and killed by a ship in 2016.

Another of her offspring, as well as a grand-calf, suffered severe entanglements that led to the death of one in 2000 and the disappearance of the other in 2001.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com.