BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — One of precious few reproductive female right whales has been spotted caught in fishing gear and in poor health, the New England Aquarium said Friday.
Now, aquarium researchers believe she may die as a result.
"The potential loss of a mother is particularly devastating to the species, which numbers about 400," the aquarium said in a release.
The right whale, named Dragon, was spotted south of Nantucket by researchers with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration on Monday.
Researchers noted she had a buoy stuck in her mouth, appeared emaciated, and had unhealthy-looking skin. The orange patches visible in the photos below, they say, indicate infection. They believe the buoy is keeping her mouth from closing.
"She is extremely emaciated and gray, suggesting she may have been entangled and unable to close her mouth for months," NEAQ senior scientist Amy Knowlton said in the release.
Dragon is 19 and was last spotted in April 2019 in Cape Cod Bay. Aquarium researchers have been tracking her for years, and noted she has given birth three times.
"It is both sad and discouraging to see Dragon, a whale we have followed from her birth through to maturity, entangled and in such poor health," NEAQ research scientist Philip Hamilton wrote. "The hope for this species rides on the broad backs of these calving females. I fear we will lose this whale just as she enters what should be the prime of her reproductive life."