The North Atlantic right whale mortality crisis in Canada continues, as this morning we received an aerial image of a sixth carcass, found June 27, 2019, off the Gaspe Peninsula in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We matched the image of this whale to Catalog #3450, “Clipper,” a female of unknown age first seen in 2004. Clipper was named because a portion of her tail had been “clipped” off in a vessel strike prior to her first sighting in 2004.
The record of her sightings shows that in addition to the vessel strike, she experienced two minor entanglements in fishing gear. She was seen nearly every year since 2004 in all the major right whale habitats. Clipper gave birth to her first and only calf in 2016; being a successfully reproductive female, she was likely to have more calves in the future. The mother-calf pair caused quite a stir when Clipper steered herself and her calf into the Sebastian Inlet in Brevard County, FL. After the pair spent two days in the inlet, crowds lined the pier and cheered when the two whales made their way back into the open ocean.
When the pair visited the Bay of Fundy that summer, Clipper fed on plankton while her calf mimicked her with a partially open mouth, not quite getting the hang of eating “solid food” after months of nursing. While the calf didn’t master this particular skill that day, Clipper set a good example for her offspring and appeared to be a patient mother.
In 2017 and 2018, Clipper was seen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, indicating her shift in preference to this emerging habitat area. Her son, no longer a little calf, was also photographed in the Gulf in 2018.
Similar to most of the other whale carcasses identified this month, Clipper was seen alive on June 4, June 5, and June 10 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence by the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center aerial team. Aside from being the sixth dead right whale this month, she is the fifth mortality within the last eight days and the fourth female.