Critically endangered North Atlantic right whale named ‘Cottontail’ found dead off S.C. coast

The whale was found entangled in ropes

Critically endangered North Atlantic right whale named ‘Cottontail’ found dead off S.C. coast
“Cottontail” (Catalog #3920) seen off the coast of Florida entangled and in poor health on February 18. CREDIT: FWC/Joey Antonelli, taken under NOAA permit #18786 (Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Joey Antonelli)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - In another tragic turn for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, an adult whale was found dead over the weekend off the coast of South Carolina.

The 12 year old male right whale nicknamed Cottontail was found dead off the coast of Myrtle Beach entangled in fishing gear.

Cottontail was first seen entangled off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts in October 2020. He was seen alive a little more than one week ago off the coast of Florida on February 18, 2021. At that time, large whale disentanglement experts attached a telemetry buoy to track the whale in hopes of disentangling the whale in the future. The whale succumbed to the entanglement before he could be freed from the ropes.

Cottontail’s death is the latest in an Unusual Mortality Event that has been ongoing since 2017 and has claimed the lives of 34 right whales. Most of these whales died from entanglements and ship strikes. Another 14 whales are considered “seriously injured” and likely to die from their injuries if they have not died already. Cottontail is the second confirmed right whale death in 2021. The first was a male calf that likely died of a boat strike near St. Augustine, Florida in early February.

According to the Pew Charitable Trust: “The primary cause of death for North Atlantic right whales is entanglement in vertical ropes that run between lobster and crab traps on the seafloor and buoys on the surface. Ropes can wrap around whales’ bodies, flippers, flukes, or mouths.”

The 48 whales involved in this Unusual Mortality Event made up more than 10% of the remaining population. There are only believed to be approximately 366 North Atlantic Right Whales remaining. Deaths have outpaced births in recent years, sparking significant concern for a species that has seen its numbers drop by at least 100 since 2010.

The last few months have brought a glimmer of hope for this species - at least 15 new right whale calves have been spotted with their mothers off the coast of the southeast U.S. That’s the highest number of calves reported in a single calving season since 2016. Three right whales were also seen off the coast of Virginia Beach in January.

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