In a rare sighting, oceanographers in Spain captured footage of fin whale with a severely bent spine struggling to swim off the Mediterranean coast.
The Spanish aquarium Oceanografic Valencia shared video of the whale on social media and said the animal was spotted on March 4 by a beach in Cullera, near Valencia. A team of biologists and veterinarians from the aquarium were called to view the whale after a boat captain reported that the creature was trapped in a fishing net.
When the aquarium’s team arrived at the site, they quickly realized the 40-tonne, 17-metre-long male fin whale was not stuck at all, rather it had “scoliosis of unknown origin.”
The extreme scoliosis is believed to have likely been caused by blunt force trauma from a vessel strike. Biologists observed the whale’s obvious swimming difficulties and determined it would probably die of starvation as a direct result.
The aquarium’s team attempted to attach a tracking device to the fin whale but were unable to because of its overly curved spine.
After a few hours, the whale reportedly swam into deeper waters and disappeared.
According to Live Science, it’s possible for large whales to be born with or develop scoliosis at a young age. Most whales with the condition “almost never live to adulthood.” To feed, fin whales, among other species, must use their tails, called flukes, to swim in a forward direction through shoals of krill. A whale with scoliosis cannot do this effectively.
It is not clear how many whales die from vessel strikes every year, as counts rely on direct reports and discoveries of deceased whales either floating at sea or washed up on shore. However, as demand for cargo shipments and cruise boat traffic has increased over the last few decades, vessel strikes have become an increasing concern.
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