The carcass of a critically endangered whale species was found floating off the coast of New Jersey on Thursday, federal authorities said.
The whale was a North Atlantic right whale. The whales number only about 400, with fewer than 100 breeding females remaining, having suffered high mortality and poor reproduction in recent years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
NOAA said the whale was found floating off the coast of the Elberon section of Long Branch in Monmouth County. The species was confirmed by a Center for Coastal Studies aerial survey team.
The agency and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center are working on performing a necropsy of the animal to determine how it died.
The death was the first observed right whale death in United States waters this year. The animals are vulnerable to ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear. Extensive measures have been taken to protect the whales in the waters off the Northeast.
NOAA declared an “unusual mortality event” for North Atlantic right whales in 2017. Since then, 31 whales have been found dead in U.S. and Canadian waters. The whale discovered this week is the 31st found dead.
Only 12 births have been observed in the three calving seasons since 2017, which is less than a third of the previous average annual birth rate for right whales, according to NOAA.
The North Atlantic right whale, whose characteristic feature is raised patches of rough skin on their heads, weighs up to 70 tons, spans up to 52 feet, and lives up to 70 years.
Anyone who spots a distressed or dead marine mammal in New Jersey is asked to call (609) 266-0538.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.