RALEIGH, N.C. — A rare whale found stranded on North Carolina's Outer Banks last week was the first known calf of the season and likely died during or shortly after birth, experts say.
The North Atlantic right whale — one of the rarest marine mammals in the world — was found Friday on the North Core Banks, according to a news release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Biologists performed a necropsy and took DNA samples from the whale Saturday to determine a cause of death and "hopefully" track down its mother, the National Park Service posted on Facebook.
Now, experts believe the calf was already dead when it stranded.
Karen Duggan, a park ranger at Cape Lookout National Seashore, told McClatchy News the whale likely died either during or right after birth then washed ashore on the Outer Banks.
"It just didn't make it," Duggan said.
Adult right whales are usually about 55 feet long, Duggan said, but the calf was only 6 feet long and still had its umbilical cord attached.
The calf was buried in a remote area of the beach.
The whale was the first documented calf of the season, according to NOAA.
"Each new right whale calf brings so much hope for this critically endangered species, and losses like this have a substantial impact on their recovery," NOAA said in the release.
Roughly 360 North Atlantic right whales remain in the world, according to the NPS, and between five and six calves are born each year.