Right whale deaths on rise (fwd)

Michael Williamson (pita@whale.simmons.edu)
Mon, 24 Feb 1996 16:41:58

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Date: Sat, 24 Feb 1996 16:37:30 -0500 (EST)
From: Michael Williamson <pita@whale.simmons.edu>
Subject: Right whale deaths on rise (fwd)
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 23 Feb 1996 20:58:11 -0800
From: r.mallon1@genie.com
To: Multiple recipients of list MARMAM <MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET>
Subject: Right whale deaths on rise
 
Right whale deaths on rise
 
   BRUNSWICK, Ga., Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The death off the Georgia coast of a
one-month-old right whale calf brings to four the number of the
endangered species that have died in the Southeast this year, a wildlife
biologist said Thursday.
   In just two months the 1996 right whale mortality rate for the region
already matches the annual 1989 number, the highest rate on record.
   Discovered Monday approximately 20 miles east of Cumberland Island
off the Georgia coast near the Florida border, the 1 1/2 ton calf was
recovered by a Georgia Department of Natural Resources research vessel.
   It was transported to the University of Florida veterinary school in
Gainesville to attempt to determine the cause of death.
   A preliminary diagnosis done Wednesday suggested the calf was healthy
and nursing up until and perhaps at the time of death.
   "The body was so fresh that we had to circle several times before we
determined it was dead," said wildlife biologist Barb Zoodsmaof the
Georgia DNR's Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program.
   Nongame Program biologists have been participating in aerial calving
surveys since the first of the year.
   The Monday sighting was made only minutes after Zoodsma and
representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Florida
Department of Environmental Protection and the New England Aquarium had
logged-in for the first of several offshore surveys planned this month.
   "The number of right whale sightings typically decreases in
February, and we don't know why," said Zoodsma. "These surveys are
part of an effort to learn if the whales are moving farther off shore."
   The current series of fatalities began Jan. 2 with the beaching of a
female calf on Atlantic Beach near Jacksonville, Fla. The cause of death
could not be determined.
   Three weeks later, a 47-foot-long adult male estimated to have been
at least 20 years old was recovered 10 miles off Sapelo Island, south of
Savannah, Ga. Its skull had been shatteredafter being hit by a ship.
   A 35-foot-long juvenile female discovered 30 miles east of
Jacksonville Beach in Florida Feb. 7 was too decomposed for recovery or
diagnosis.
   The huge mammal earned its name during whaling days when it was
considered the right whale to hunt because of the ease with which it
could be harpooned, its ability to be floated back to shore, and its
high blubber and oil content.
   Researchers estimate the world population of northern right whales to
be approximately 350. The adult male can grow to 55 feet long and weigh
between 45 and 55 tons.
   Females do not reach sexual maturity until nearly 10 years of age,
and a slow reproduction cycle means a low replacement rate.
   "Any mortality is a blow to the population," said Zoodsma. "Four
deaths is critical."
   Vessel collisions are the number one cause of documented right whale
deaths, he said, although other documented causes include fishing gear
entanglement and still births, but surprisingly few recorded deaths by
natural causes.
   "There are actually no documented cases of natural mortality for
juveniles," said Zoodsma.
   The offshore surveying, underwritten by the National Marine Fisheries
Service, will continue daily throughout February as weather and funding
permit.