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Governor of North Carolina

Climate warning

Highly endangered right whale calf found dead

A highly endangered North Atlantic right whale calf was found dead over the weekend near Morehead City along the central North Carolina coast. The death is a big blow for a species that is already under severe stress due to ship strikes, entanglements with fishing gear, and climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, fewer than 350 of the marine mammals still swim off the Atlantic coast between Canada's maritime provinces and north Florida. The young calf was first spotted Jan. 3 near Beaufort Inlet by a member of the public, who reported the sighting to local wildlife officials. A search by local and out-of-state researchers, including a team from Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute in Florida, soon found the calf, but not her mother. "The aerial survey team widened their search in the hopes of locating and identifying an adult whale that could be the potential mother," the NOAA wrote in an online post. "However, no other right whales were found in the area." 'Things are grim for the species':Right whales continue to decline in Atlantic The calf was found dead Saturday under a pier at the Morehead City port, according to NOAA, and response teams recovered the carcass and conducted a necropsy. The calf, which was estimated to be no more than a few weeks old, appeared to be underweight and in relatively poor health. "Newborn calves cannot survive long without their mothers," the NOAA said. "There are very few intervention options available to the stranding network given the size of the animals and their specialized needs." The whereabouts and health of the calf's mom isn't known. "This calf will be added as the 93rd whale to the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event that the species has experienced since 2017," the NOAA said. SPEED BRAKE: Should North Carolina recreational boats have to slow down for endangered whales? 'Current safeguards are inadequate' North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered mammals in the world. Long hunted for their oil and meat, the whales received the name because they swam close to shore and floated long after being killed, and thus were the "right" whale for 19th century whalers to pursue. By the early 20th century, the estimated population had plummeted to barely a hundred animals. Despite aggressive anti-whaling measures, environmentalists have long held up the whale as a proverbial "canary in the coal mine" for the marine environment that showcases the stress many marine mammals face due to human actions. That includes increased ship traffic − both in number and the size of the vessels − in the busy shipping lanes along the U.S. East Coast and the dangers posed by entanglements from fixed fishing gear, including New England's economically important lobster fishery. QUESTION MARK: For highly endangered North Atlantic right whales, offshore wind brings a lot of unknowns Climate change is a relatively new wild card to the challenges facing the whale, which can grow up to 52 feet long and weigh 70 tons. The warming of the oceans is moving the whale's favorite food source, zooplankton, farther north, with the whales following into waters where people, vessels and whales might find it harder to co-exist. Plans, spearheaded by the Biden administration, to add offshore wind farms along many near-shore waters along the East Coast − the same areas the right whales migrate between their summer feeding grounds off New England and the Canadian Maritimes and winter breeding grounds in the Southeast U.S. − also have concerned biologists. The whale is also a slow breeder, with three years considered the normal time between births. That's another challenge when it comes to stabilizing and rebuilding the population. NOAA estimated there were 20 whale births in 2021 and 15 calves born in 2022. With the latest estimates showing the animal's numbers falling in recent years to below 340, and mature females numbering around 70, environmentalists and regulators have stepped up their protection efforts. SPEED LIMITS?Massive ships are killing endangered whales each year. Last year NOAA proposed new measures to prevent vessel-whale collisions. Seasonal speed restrictions would be broadened to cover most of the East Coast. The speed limit of 10 knots or less within generally close proximity to shore also would be expanded to include most vessels down to 35 feet in length. Previously, they had only applied to vessels over 65 feet and at the approaches and mouths to major ports, including Norfolk, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina. But the effort has been met with strong pushback from charter and recreational fishermen, worried the move would all but shutdown their boating industries. They said the move also would devastate an important component of coastal economies. According to an American Sportfishing Association report released in May, the recreational fishing industry in North Carolina supports 455,000 jobs and generates $152 in economic impact for every pound of fish landed. Moves to force changes to the lobster fishery also have run into political headwinds, with Democrats in Congress approving language giving fishermen six years to make changes to their fishing practices to protect the right whales. The move frustrated many environmentalists, who said the marine mammals don't have that long before their possible extinction becomes a foregone conclusion. "We know that ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are ever-present threats to North Atlantic right whales, and that current safeguards are inadequate," said Gib Brogan, a fisheries campaign manager with Oceana, in a statement on the young whale calf's death, noting that the environmental group had filed an emergency petition last month seeking more and immediate federal protections for the whales.

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  • Elizabeth Gathigia

    75 w

    An agent action should be taken to prevent further deaths

    1
    • Professor Aniebiet Inyang Ntui

      75 w

      @lizz_gathigia Yes. Teams should be deployed to fix this crisis.

    • Munene Mugambi

      75 w

      Something needs to be done before we lose this species

      1
      • Gary Janks

        75 w

        Deeply tragic. There’s a book I read as a child in South Africa, Cry Beloved Country. There’s enough global tragedy for many volumes called Cry Beloved Planet. Nevertheless I highly recommend How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates!

        2
        • Professor Aniebiet Inyang Ntui

          75 w

          @gary_janks Thanks for sharing, Gary.

        • john linus Tom

          75 w

          It needs agent action

          2
        • George Kariuki

          75 w

          This is a significant blow to the species, which is already under severe stress due to a variety of human-caused factors such as ship strikes, entanglements with fishing gear, and climate change. Disheartening!

          1
          • Professor Aniebiet Inyang Ntui

            75 w

            @george_kariuki 100%

          • rosebellendiritu

            75 w

            What's happening???on another article posted here also,other six are dead also

            1
            • Professor Aniebiet Inyang Ntui

              75 w

              @rosebellendiritu It has been a horrible 48 hours for these endangered species and a significant blow to biodiversity advocacy.

            • Florence Shii

              75 w

              NC can do better.

              1
              • Professor Aniebiet Inyang Ntui

                75 w

                @florence_shii 100%

              • Professor Aniebiet Inyang Ntui

                75 w

                Urgent Action is Needed. There are fewer than 70 reproductively active females remaining.

                1
                • Peter Kamau

                  75 w

                  Quite saddening!!Issues surrounding it's death are well known and action should be taken to prevent any other ordeal of this kind from taking place.

                  1
                  • Professor Aniebiet Inyang Ntui

                    75 w

                    @peter_kamau Agree.

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