A female North Atlantic right whale was found dead on Sunday with a rope wrapped around it off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., a rare event that had scientists worrying about the future of the critically endangered species with about 360 remaining animals.
The whale, thought to be a juvenile because of its size, had washed ashore Joseph Sylvia State Beach on the island’s northeastern coast with a rope tangled around its peduncle, the part that connects the tail fluke to the body, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement.
“It’s devastating to hear about another loss to North Atlantic right whales,” said Gib Brogan, a campaign director at Oceana, an international conservation group based in Washington. “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.”
The death came during the four-month period that such whales give birth. So far, 16 calves have been born during the current season, Oceana said.
Among the North Atlantic right whales remaining, fewer than 70 are reproductively active females, researchers estimate. Entanglements have killed at least nine of the whales and injured 70 others since 2017, according to NOAA.
Scientists were waiting for the weather to improve so they could determine what caused the latest death and identify the specific animal. Marine experts will compare its genetic material and the patches of raised tissue on its head, known as callosities, against a vast library of genetic data from right whales.