A beloved humpback named Moon was left with a broken spine and completely unable to use her tail to propel herself across the sea after being struck by a ship. But she is now on a mission of “tenacity and tragedy,” having swum more than 3,000 miles from Canada to Hawaii in what experts believe is her “last voyage” before she dies.
Researchers have known Moon for years. Just two years ago, she was seen passing her traditions on to her calf. But then last September, while she was swimming alone at the Fin Island Research Station in northern British Columbia, they realized something was wrong: her spine was deformed.
From a bird’s eye view, it was clear it had been hit by a ship, the researchers said. Her normally straight spine now had a massive “s” shape that ran from her dorsal fin down the middle of her back to the fluke. The BC Whales organization said her “severe spinal injury” left her unable to use her tail, which provides the up-and-down motion needed to help her swim effortlessly across the ocean.
This type of injury, the organization said, will likely result in his death. But that hasn’t stopped the huge mammal from trying to make the most of the time she has left.
On December 1, nearly three months after her injury was first noticed, Moon was spotted again, this time thousands of miles away.
The Pacific Whale Foundation found her swimming off the coast of Maui, Hawaii, more than 3,000 miles from British Columbia, with a “twisted body” and in declining health. According to the Marine Education & Research Society, she had to use her pectoral fins to make the trip, as her tail was paralysed.
“She was probably in considerable pain, but she migrated thousands of miles without being able to push her tail,” said BC Whales. “Her’s journey left her completely emaciated and covered in whale lice testifying to her severely depreciated condition.”
This trip will probably be Moon’s last trip.
“In its current condition, it won’t live to make the trip back,” BC Whales said. “We’ll never truly understand the strength it took for Moon to embark on what sadly is her last voyage, but it’s up to us to respect that toughness within another species and recognize that attacks on ships lead to a devastating end.” .
The group said its journey reveals the “gritty reality” of what happens when a sea animal is hit by a ship.
“It speaks to the long suffering the whales can endure afterward,” the organization said. “It also talks about their instincts and their culture: how far whales will go to follow patterns of behavior.”
Ship strikes pose a major threat to whales and other marine species. From 2010 to 2014, NOAA reported that 37 whales were injured by vessel attacks along North America’s Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, with similar estimates along the Pacific coast. Other studies have shown a significantly greater impact, with one published in 2017 estimating that up to about 80 blue, common and humpback whales are affected each year along the US West Coast.
“But these minimum estimates are likely low because the number of deaths and serious injuries that go unreported is not known,” the government agency said, adding that ship attack estimates for smaller marine mammal species are likely even more underestimated.
Professional diver Kayleigh Nicole Grant came across Moon in Hawaii and said she is now being followed by sharks as her condition worsens. Another whale now appears to escort her through her doomed journey, an indicator of the “compassion” shared by the whales.
“It was so hard to see a humpback whale in so much pain with my own eyes,” Grant said. “All of her suffering is due to human impact and it kills me that we cause so much damage to nature and wildlife.”
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