Special to the News-Leader
Our community owes a huge debt of gratitude to the women and men who devote their lives to the protection of the vulnerable and highly endangered North Atlantic right whales, which give birth to their babies in the waters off our island home.
On Jan. 14 and 15, nine top whale scientists and veterinarians from across the country arrived in Fernandina Beach to do what they could for an injured baby right whale in our offshore waters.
Amelia Island’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration right whale recovery coordinator, Barbara Zoodsma, was joined by experts from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Mammal Research and Rescue, Georgia Wildlife Resources, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Blue World Research Institute, and SeaWorld in California.
With the assistance of spotter planes, the experts found the mother and calf and were able to administer antibiotics to the baby whale. Additional information was gained about the interaction of the mother and calf through observing them in the wild.
According to NOAA Fisheries Services, “Derecha,” the calf’s mother, “was first seen in December 1993. She is at least 27 years old. This is her fourth calf – she last gave birth in 2010.”
“On January 8, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spotted the fourth right whale calf of the season off Georgia, but the young whale was already injured.
“(The) calf was spotted off Georgia … with two roughly parallel and S-shaped injuries that experts say were consistent with the propeller of a vessel. The calf’s mother is #2360, Derecha, which means ‘right’ in Spanish.
“The injuries are concerning because of the severity and location of the wounds. One of the injuries appears to include damage to the calf’s mouth, which could hamper its ability to nurse and
feed. Biologists estimate the newborn is just days old and the wounds were perhaps hours old.”
A subsequent post on NOAA’s Facebook page says, “‘Derecha’s’ injured calf was seen Friday afternoon, Jan. 10, by aerial survey and on-water teams with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“Medical experts and biologists spent the weekend reviewing images and video to continue assessments of the injury and prognosis and to determine potential next steps. Based on the images received, the calf’s wounds were worse than originally thought. For example, some of the wounds are to the lip and may not be repairable, leading to impacts on feeding. The calf’s prognosis was downgraded from ‘guarded’ to ‘poor.’”
A plan was made to locate the mother and calf pair, obtain images in order to update the assessment of the calf’s injuries, condition, and behavior, and deliver antibiotics, which they did this week.
Helping the baby whale is “a huge effort made possible by many experts from partner agencies all over the country. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research, SeaWorld, and IFAW,”
according to NOAA Fisheries Services.
“In the meantime, NOAA asks anyone with information regarding the calf’s injuries and additional sightings to contact 1-877-WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5343).
“NOAA urges everyone to please give these animals their space. Mom and calf pairs
spend the majority of their time at, or a few feet below, the water’s surface in the Southeast U.S.
“This is a critical and vulnerable time for right whale moms to bond with their calves. Federal law requires staying away from Right Whales, at least 500 yards by air (including drones) and by sea.
“The protection of these animals is literally in the hands of all mariners on the water and all businesses that service those vessels. Stay educated, remain alert, and slow down while traveling through areas where right whales are found.”
Updates will be posted at http://bit.ly/3adyUyF.