Washington, DC

A North Atlantic right whale calf with significant head and face wounds has become the 35th “serious injury” case in a years-long series of injuries and mortalities threatening the critically endangered species, highlighting the immediate need for action to prevent the species’ extinction.  

“At a time when every single calf is vital to the survival of the critically endangered right whale, once again one has been struck and mortally injured by a vessel,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “A right whale calf currently has a 1 in 14 chance of dying before its first birthday from a vessel strike. Yet the Biden administration is inexplicably dragging its feet in finalizing a new regulation to protect vulnerable mother-calf pairs from being run over by boats — and suffering protracted, agonizing deaths like the one Juno’s calf likely faces — if they aren’t killed outright.” 

A North Atlantic right whale calf is seen with severe injuries to the head, face and left lip in Edisto, S.C.
Forever Hooked Charters of South Carolina/NOAA

An announcement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration documented injuries consistent with those caused by vessel strikes across the calf’s head, face and left lip. Those injuries may leave the calf unable to nurse and unlikely to survive. 

The calf had been spotted on Jan. 3 off the coast of Edisto, South Carolina, with its mother, “Juno,” the first documented right whale to have given birth during the 2024 calving season. 

Vessel strikes can lead to slow or quick deaths. The North Atlantic right whale population has been put in grave danger from both. In 2021, a young right whale calf was found dead at Anastasia State Park near St. Augustine, Florida. The firstborn calf of the right whale “Infinity” had been struck and killed by a boat, his body found with deep propeller wounds across his head and back. Infinity was also mortally injured in the same strike and has not been resighted since, meaning she is most likely dead as well. 

Vessel strikes are a threat unaddressed by new regulations since 2008. The Biden administration denied a targeted emergency petition by Defenders and its conservation allies seeking to set speed limits for vessels 35 feet long and longer to protect vulnerable mother-calf pairs in January 2023.  

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

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