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Mother of dead right whale calf found in St. Augustine also suffering injuries, propeller cuts

The calf’s mother was re-sighted for the first time on Tuesday after her baby was killed over the weekend. There are under 400 right whales left on the plant.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla — (Note: The video above was originally published on Feb. 15.)

The mother of the baby right whale that was struck and killed by a boat near the St. Augustine Inlet over the weekend has been found with injuries consistent with a vessel strike, according to researchers.

A 54-foot sportfishing vessel captain reported hitting a whale near the entrance to St. Augustine Inlet Friday evening, according to the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

The vessel began taking on water and was quickly grounded to prevent it from sinking. Five people were safely rescued from the sport fisherman boat, as well as some equipment and belongings.  

The next morning, a right whale calf washed up on the northern part of Anastasia State Park between the St. Augustine Inlet and the bathhouses for Anastasia State Park.

There are less than 400 right whales left on the plant, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Researchers identified the calf as approximately 1-month-old and say its mother was a right whale named Infinity. The mother and calf have been resident in the calving grounds since mid-January and have been sighted by researchers multiple times this winter.

FWRI said the pair was one of three mother-calf pairs sighted in the vicinity of St. Augustine Inlet on Feb. 12.

After discovering the dead calf, biologists responded to conduct a necropsy of the 22-foot-long male to examine the cause of death and collect biological samples.

Biologists determined that fresh cuts on the whale’s back and head were indicative of being struck by a vessel propeller.

The whale also had injuries consistent with impact trauma, including broken ribs and bruising, researchers said. The final results of the exam are pending additional analysis.

When researchers again spotted the calf's mother Tuesday, they found injuries on her consistent with a vessel strike on her left side, including a series of fresh propeller cuts. Photos have been collected and researchers are working to assess the severity of these wounds.

Vessels 33 feet and longer have struck and killed right whales, FWRI said. Collisions with whales can result in damage to or total loss of vessels. 

Officials are urging boat operators to slow down (10 knots or less) and remain alert while traveling through nearshore waters in Florida and near inlets.

This is the time of year North Atlantic right whales swim along the nation’s southeast coastline to have their calves. Please be aware that they often come close to shore. You don’t want to hurt them or damage your boat. If you see any kind of whale, call 877-WHALE-HELP or 1-888-97-WHALE (94253).

Credit: Marineland Right Whale Project
FWC biologist measures the cut marks on beached right whale calf's back.

ALSO: Sand tiger shark washes ashore on St. Augustine Beach

ALSO: Seal spotted resting, scooting along sand on Ponte Vedra Beach

Credit: FWC
A seal was spotted resting on Ponte Vedra Beach Tuesday. Wildlife experts say if you see a seal on the beach, give it plenty of space (50 yards) and report sightings to 1-877-WHALE-HELP.