Scientists search for clues to what killed endangered whale


Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 2:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 2:06 p.m.

ORMOND-BY-THE-SEA, Fla. - Scientists are trying to figure out what killed an endangered newborn right whale that washed up on a Volusia County beach.

The animal was spotted Friday evening and taken to a research facility at the University of Florida on Saturday morning for study. The whales are one of the most endangered marine mammal species in the world with a population between 300 and 400.

It did not appear the whale was hit by a ship or entangled in fishing gear, said Barb Zoodsma, the right whale recovery program coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both are common causes of death for right whales.

The male calf was found with its umbilical cord still attached, and researchers are trying to determine if the calf was alive or dead when it was born.

The calf was more than 15 feet long and weighed about 2,900 pounds. Adult right whales can reach a length of 55 feet and weigh up to 70 tons. Their bodies are mostly black, with roughened patches of skin on their heads. Their name comes from the fact that whalers thought they were the "right" ones to hunt, because they swim close to shore and float when killed.

During the spring, summer and fall, right whales live mostly in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Canada and New England. They head south toward Georgia and Florida for the winter to give birth.

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