Fifty-four right whale mortalities have been reported from between Florida, USA and the Canadian Maritimes from 1970 to 2002. Thirty of those animals were examined: 18 adults and juveniles, and 12 calves. Morphometric data are presented such that prediction of body weight is possible if the age, or one or more measurements are known. Calves grew approximately linearly in their first year. Total length and fluke width increased asymptotically to a plateau with age, weight increased linearly with age, weight and snout to blowhole distance increased exponentially with total length, whereas total length was linearly related to fluke width and flipper length. Among the adults and juveniles examined in this study, human interaction appeared to be a major cause of mortality, where in 14/18 necropsies, trauma was a significant finding. In 10/14 of these, the cause of the trauma was presumed to be vessel collision. Entanglement in fishing gear accounted for the remaining four cases. Trauma was also present in 4/12 calves. In the majority of calf mortalities (8/12) the cause of death was not determined. Sharp ship trauma included propeller lacerations inducing multiple, deep lacerations that often incised vital organs including the brain, spinal cord, major airways, vessels and musculature. Blunt ship trauma resulted in major internal bruising and fractures often without any obvious external damage. In at least two cases fatal gear entanglements were extremely protracted: where the entanglements took at least 100 and 163 days respectively to be finally lethal. The sum of these findings show two major needs: (1) that extinction avoidance management strategies focused on reducing trauma to right whales from ship collisions and fishing gear entanglement are highly appropriate and need to be continued and; (2) that as mitigation measures continue to be introduced into shipping and fishing industry practices, there is a strong effort to maximise the diagnostic quality of post-mortem examination of right whale mortalities, to ensure an optimal understanding of resultant trends.
Additional publication details
Morphometry, gross morphology and available histopathology in North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) mortalities (1970 to 2002)