January 3, 2007—Scientists inspect the body of a two-year-
old male right whale on the northern Florida coast on December
31. Slashed repeatedly by a ship's propeller, the 41-foot-long
(13-meter- long) whale is the sixth known North Atlantic right
whale fatality of 2006.
Listed as endangered by the U.S. government, the species numbers only around 350, making 6 a heavy toll—but not an unusual one.
"Unfortunately we've had that many animals die for the past several years," Amy Knowlton, a whale researcher at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts, told the Associated Press. "It is really significant for the population, because it cannot sustain this sort of loss annually."
An aerial survey spotted the whale floating off the Georgia coast on December 30. By New Year's Eve the mammal had been towed to Florida's Amelia Island for examination.
Some of the same traits that led whalers to deem the species the "right" whale to hunt have made it especially vulnerable in the age of industrial shipping. Big and slow, North Atlantic right whales keep close to the coast, often migrating along shipping routes between Novia Scotia, Canada, and the U.S. state of Georgia.
To save these most endangered of the large whales, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service is reviewing proposals to limit ship speeds near ports or within whale areas and to reroute shipping lanes, which has already been done in Canadian waters. Some cargo companies say that their large ships are hard to maneuver at slow speeds, though, and tour companies have said speed limits would kill their business, the Associated Press reports.
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