The National Park Service has reported that a member of “one of the rarest marine mammals” in the world was found dead Friday on a North Carolina beach.
Scientists are investigating how a North Atlantic right whale calf, a critically endangered species that only has an estimated 360 animals remaining in the wild, was found washed up and stranded in the Outer Banks.
A preliminary necropsy from a statement via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests that the calf died during or shortly after birth. No humans were involved in the death, according to the necropsy.
It also remains unclear whom the calf’s mother is, though researchers at Cape Lookout National Seashore have taken DNA to further investigate.
Experts estimate that fewer than one right whale a year can be killed by humans in order for the species to recover. Only five or six are born a year, in part because of the small population of female whales still alive, estimated at around 100.
The whale’s population has been afflicted for decades by entanglements from fishery equipment, collisions with sea vessels and warming waters.
Since 2017, according to NOAA, 32 North Atlantic right whales – just under 10% of the living population – have been found dead. Another 13 were found seriously injured.
Contributing: Doug Fraser, Cape Cod Times; Associated Press. Follow Joshua Bote on Twitter: @joshua_bote.