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Rare right whale seriously injured by boat in January found dead along Georgia coast

ATLANTA — A right whale calf that sustained serious head injuries after it was hit by a boat has been found dead along the Georgia coast.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the calf was found stranded along the Cumberland Island National Seashore.

“The calf was first seen on January 3, 2024, with serious injuries to its head, mouth, and lip from a vessel strike,” NOAA said. “The carcass was heavily scavenged by sharks. Responders identified it as Juno’s calf based on the unique injuries and markings documented when the calf was alive. Due to the state of the carcass, we will use genetic testing to determine the sex.”

Right whales, which are in decline, are slow to reproduce and every baby is vitally important to the future of the species, marine scientists have said. Twenty newborns would be considered a relatively productive season, but the giant whales have been having babies at an even slower rate than normal in recent years, and they have not reached that figure since 2021, NOAA data states.

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“We will continue to work with our partners to perform a necropsy and evaluate the vessel strike wounds,” NOAA said in a statement.

Right whales migrate from their calving grounds off Florida and Georgia to feeding grounds off New England and Canada. The federal government has been working on new ship speed rules designed to protect the whales from injuries and deaths.

Some scientists have asserted that the whales are in trouble due to the warming of the ocean. The whales feed on tiny organisms in the ocean and appear to be straying from protected areas as the location of their food shifts due to climate change, scientists have said.

The baby whale is at least the third dead right whale this year. The species can’t withstand to lose population at that rate, and new protections to keep them safe are needed to save the species, environmental groups said Tuesday.

“A beacon of hope has turned into a tragedy. Human activity has set this species on a collision course with extinction. With an amended vessel speed rule, this death may never have happened,” said Greg Reilly, southeast marine campaigner for International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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