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Death of endangered whale named ‘Punctuation’ deemed ‘devastating to the population’

The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative/Atlantic Veterinary College and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are onsite on Tuesday, June 25,  in Cape Breton Island to necropsy the endangered North Atlantic right whale, Punctuation.
The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative/Atlantic Veterinary College and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are onsite on Tuesday, June 25, in Cape Breton Island to necropsy the endangered North Atlantic right whale, Punctuation. Marine Animal Response

Researchers with the New England Aquarium have identified the dead North Atlantic right whale that was floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Saturday.

“Her name was Punctuation and she was a very well-known female who had a lot of babies in her lifetime,” said Heather Chichester Pettis

After challenging weather conditions have passed since the whale was found on June 20th, the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, Atlantic Veterinary College and Fisheries and Oceans Canada were able to recover the carcass on Tuesday, June 25.

READ MORE: Dead endangered right whale found drifting in Gulf of St. Lawrence: DFO

The team is preparing to necropsy the endangered North Atlantic right whale in Cape Breton Island to determine the cause of death.

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“It’s a devastating hit to this already struggling population, not to mention to our incredible research community who’ve been watching her and her children for years and working so hard to protect them,” she added.

Pettis said the dead whale was named ‘Punctuation’ because the small scars on her head looked like dashes and commas.

“All right whale deaths hit hard, but this one is particularly devastating to the population — she was a reproductive female — and to the researchers who have studied her for nearly 40 years.”

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READ MORE: Ropeless fishing gear in development as second right whale found dead in Gulf of St. Lawrence

Punctuation was sighted more than 250 times in habitats up and down the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and Canada. She was last sighted alive on June 6, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

She had eight calves, her first in 1986 and her last in 2016, giving her a reproductive span of 30 years.

“For a population in decline and struggling with reproduction over the last few years, the loss of her reproductive success is a tremendous loss to the species,” said Pettis.

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According to the aquarium, Punctuation, as well as her calves and grand-calves, have faced numerous challenges.

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“Punctuation herself bore scars from five separate entanglements and two small vessel strikes.”

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In 2016, her calf was struck and killed by a ship and both daughter and granddaughter suffered severe entanglement.
Researchers hope that once Punctuation’s body is retrieved, they will be able to perform a necropsy.
“Understanding how and why right whales are killed is essential to evaluating and improving management and conservation efforts aimed at saving this species,” said Pettis.