Humpback whale with shocking spinal injury reminder for boaters to stay alert

Click to play video: 'Incredible journey for injured humpback whale'
Incredible journey for injured humpback whale
New images show a humpback whale with a severe spinal injury, likely caused by a vessel strike in B.C. waters. Done video shows the whale known as Moon last week in Maui, but researchers first noticed her injury in September in northern B.C. – Dec 12, 2022

A humpback whale who made it from the B.C. coast to the Big Island of Hawaii, despite a shocking spinal injury is a stark reminder about being whale-aware on the water.

The whale, BCX1232, also called Moon, was spotted recently off the Kona coast by the crew of the Hawaiian Adventures Kona.

When she was sighted in B.C. waters, experts said she would likely not make it to the warmer Hawaii ocean due to her severe spinal injury. However, she made the more than 4,000-mile migration once again.

However, experts are very worried about her condition, which they believe was the result of a ship strike.

Moon was first spotted in B.C. waters in 2013, and was sighted in the waters near Hawaii with a fellow mature humpback whale known by the scientific ID: PWF-NP_2761.

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“The contrast in condition between these two whales is a gut-wrenching testament to just how severe Moon’s condition is. She has a significant infestation of sea lice and appears to be severely emaciated” Hawaiian Adventures’ Naturalist Samantha Murphy said in a statement.

Jackie Hildering, humpback whale researcher and education lead for the Marine Education and Research Society, told Global News Moon is very well-known to whale watchers as she is a mature female and has had a calf.

She said the injury likely happened during feeding season this year and they noticed the huge change in Moon’s condition between when she was first sighted in September in B.C. and then 55 days later off Hawaii.

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“She didn’t bulk up enough, still migrated down, cost her apparently an awful lot of energy and she was likely wasn’t able to feed with her injury or able to bulk up and there’s no way she will make it back because down there she won’t be able to fill her tank in order to make the journey back up,” Hildering.

Click to play video: 'Whale researchers concerned by deadly collisions in B.C. waters'
Whale researchers concerned by deadly collisions in B.C. waters
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In November, a young humpback whale that washed up near Haida Gwaii appeared to have died from blunt force trauma from being hit by a boat or ship.

Hildering told Global News last month that while the humpback whales have made a comeback, ship strikes remain a huge concern.

Fin whales and grey whales are also at risk as they are slow-moving and lack the spatial awareness and agility of smaller whales, such as orcas.

“We have to make sure the protection remains for these baleen whales that we have a second chance with,” Hildering added.

She said they can be resting and eating just below the surface and it can be deadly for the whales as they cannot be seen.

“And then you couple that with the lack of boater awareness and the presumption that the whales know where boats are or that the whales are going in a predictable direction, it is really problematic,” Hildering said.

Click to play video: 'Dead humpback whale found on B.C. beach'
Dead humpback whale found on B.C. beach

She would like to see more people discussing this and voicing their concerns.

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“Why put them into the world?” Hildering asked.  “Because hopefully, that concern translates into people doing something.”

However, at this point, there is nothing anyone can do for Moon.

The migration to Hawaii will likely be her last.

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