#26: Night of the Living Dead Whale!

As the end of October approaches, many cultures around the world will be honoring their dead during observances like Allhallowtide and Dia de los Muertos. Although the North Atlantic right whale population offers us a large pool of deceased individuals to remember, this year we have reason to celebrate the opposite: Catalog #4160, who was thought likely dead, is indeed alive! *cue spooky music* Let me explain:

December 2010: Sea To Shore's aerial survey team discovers Gannet (#2660) with a new calf (#4160) off the coast of Georgia. About a month later, the healthy pair is seen by the Florida Fish & Wildlife aerial survey team- Gannet nurses her son and he grows larger.

Gannet lies on her back, cradling her new calf in the waters off Florida. Photo: Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Taken under NOAA Research Permit #549-1759.

April 2011: Gannet and her calf have migrated safely from the Southeast all the way to Cape Cod Bay, where they are seen together by the Center for Coastal Studies.

July 2011: The calf is seen in Cape Cod Bay again, but this time Gannet is nowhere to be found. A calf alone at seven months old does not bode well, as calves will often nurse for up to one year before weaning. The outlook for this young whale is made much worse by the fact that #4160 now has numerous large wounds from an entanglement in fishing gear. The entanglement event is a possible cause for the separation of Gannet and her son. This is the last sighting of #4160, and his survival seems unlikely.

Gannet's calf, #4160, alone and with raw entanglement wounds. Photo: Center for Coastal Studies. Taken under NOAA Permit #932-1905.

September 2011: Gannet is sighted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and in the Bay of Fundy during this month. She has not reunited with her calf. Gannet bears large entanglement wounds, new since the April sighting- it's possible that mom and calf experienced their entanglements at the same time. This is the last sighting of Gannet.

A sighting of Gannet in the Bay of Fundy proves that she, too, had recently suffered a severe entanglement. Photo: Tracy Montgomery, New England Aquarium.

Fast forward to August 2014: The Shelagh crew patiently tracks a whale that is traveling subsurface on Roseway Basin. After several attempts, photographs are finally collected before the whale disappears on another 18 minute dive. It's noted that the individual has entanglement scars and looks young.

#4160, photographed for the first time in three years. Not an easy target, either! Photo: Philip Hamilton, Canadian Whale Institute/New England Aquarium.

It wouldn't be until we were back in the office that we would have time to work on figuring out who that young individual was- matching is tricky work when the last photos you have are of a calf from three years ago! But the callosity pattern was there, the right lip ridges matched, the entanglement wounds had healed but the scars lined up- we had seen #4160!

Images on the left were taken by Center for Coastal Studies in July 2011 (under NOAA Permit #932-1905). Images on the right were taken by Canadian Whale Institute/New England Aquarium in August 2014. Looks like a match!

Though he isn't the healthiest looking animal, the fact that #4160 is alive amazes us! He represents a flicker of light during these past few months of darkness. Over the past six months three new entangled whale cases were discovered (with 12 cases currently open), and since July, four dead right whales have been found; while cause of death is unknown for two of the whales, the bodies of the other two were wrapped in fishing gear.

Gannet still has not been seen since September 2011, but now that we know #4160 is still kicking we are more optimistic that she may prove herself to really have nine lives (based on scarring history, we know that Gannet has been entangled at least four times). For now, we are content to focus on the fact that #4160 is alive- and there wasn't even a Dr. Frankenstein or a spell for resurrection involved (that we know of, anyway!).


1 comment:

  1. Maybe now he could be named Lazarus or Prodigal. You thought he was dead and now know him to be alive, or he was lost and now is found. I think #4160's return should be celebrated, although he may not know about it. Give him a name!