Whale with missing tail spotted near Newport Beach
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A gray whale with a missing tail was spotted off the coast of California, whale watchers say. The whale was swimming at a normal pace – about 3 miles per hour – near Newport Beach, meaning it has adapted to be able to swim without its tail.
Gray whales make 12,000-mile round-trip migrations between Alaska and Mexico each year, according to Jessica Roame, the education manager for Newport Whales. Roame told CBS News this is a “miracle whale” given it persevered and continued its migration, despite its injury.
A gray whale’s tail, called a fluke or tail fin, is a very important body part, Roame said.
Whales’ tails are used to push through water and are controlled by a massive muscle system that make up a third of the whale’s weight, according to NOAA.
Other whales have also adapted after losing their tails. Earlier this year, a tailless humpback whale was spotted swimming normally in the Pacific off the coast of Colombia, according to Orca, a marine conservation organization that works to protect whales.
In 2020, a fin whale with an amputated fluke was spotted near Greece and Italy, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
A fin whale dubbed Fluker was spotted without half of its tail 2006 in the Mediterranean Sea. The tail was likely injured in a boat collision or by a fishing net, researchers from the World Wildlife Fund said, according to Whale Scientists, a blog about whales and dolphins run by two Ph.D. students.
Fluker could still feed and swim, but couldn’t dive as well as other whales. In 2019, she was spotted with her entire tail missing and she had lost a lot of weight. Researchers assessed her health and found she was in critical condition.
The whale spotted in Newport Beach likely lost its tail after getting tangled in fishing gear a few years ago, Roame said. The whale was underweight but not “dramatically,” she said.
“As horrible as this injury is, it’s incredible that this whale is determined to survive, and so far appears to be successful,” Roame said.