Endangered North Atlantic right whale found in Virginia Beach died of blunt force trauma

An endangered North Atlantic right whale was found dead in Virginia Beach over the weekend.
Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 12:02 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2023 at 10:13 PM EST
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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WWBT) - A necropsy conducted Tuesday revealed the endangered North Atlantic right whale found dead in Virginia Beach died of blunt force trauma consistent with a ship strike.

Experts discovered “the whale suffered a catastrophic blunt force traumatic injury, impacting a large portion of the vertebral column. The injuries, consistent with a vessel (ship) strike, included multiple vertebral fractures and separations that would have resulted in death shortly after the injury. The whale was otherwise in normal to thin nutritional condition, with no evidence of recent entanglement and no obvious external evidence of trauma,” according to a statement from NOAA.

There are only an estimated 350 right whales alive today. That’s down from around 500 a decade ago, and some scientists are concerned they could go extinct if the population does not recover.

There are currently speed restrictions in place for ships off all major ports in the mid-Atlantic including Virginia Beach. All vessels 65 feet or longer must travel at 10 knots or less in this area. All vessels shorter than 65 feet should slow down too.

“We care about these whales, this is really crushing to come out and have to observe these whales on the beach. We really want to do everything that we can to recover them, but we have to learn from them, so this is a great opportunity to do that,” said Kim Damon-Randall, Director of the Office of Protected Resources at NOAA Fisheries.

The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Stranding Response Program and NOAA will work to determine the whale’s cause of death.

According to news reports, the Virginia Beach Marine Patrol pulled a 36-foot humpback whale ashore near First Landing State Park.

NOAA Fisheries says this is the fourth large whale to wash ashore in Virginia in 2023, but the first North Atlantic right whale this year in the state.

Right whales were added to the Endangered Species Act in 1970 and are one of the world’s most endangered large whale species.