Human and animal conflict is a touchy subject for many species, whether it is related to loss of habitat, or even the question of whether you should let a moose lick your car. One other aspect of human-animal conflict is the problem of boat strikes, which can injure and even kill many marine species each year. Unfortunately, one humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) might just be the newest victim.
The whale was spotted off the coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico, in December 2023 by Alexander Schmidt Márquez from Apex Ocean Divers. A drone video shared on their Instagram page revealed the extent of the suspected injury. It is currently unknown what caused the damage to the whale’s spine, but a boat strike is considered to be the most likely explanation.
Severe injuries like this one are thought to negatively affect the chances of the whale surviving. A similarly injured fin whale, thought to have scoliosis as the result of either genetics or trauma, was spotted last year struggling to swim off the coast of the city of Cullera, along Spain’s east coast.
"Whales are highly resilient creatures, but severe injuries like this can significantly reduce their chances of survival in the wild," said Stephanie Stack, chief biologist at the Pacific Whale Foundation in a statement sent to Live Science.
One such example of marine mammal resilience despite a variation in morphology is the dolphin with hook-like thumbs, spotted in the Gulf of Corinth, near Greece. Its unusual appearance is highly likely to be caused by genetics, as the change appears on both sides of the animal's fins.
But as research would indicate, this is unlikely to be the case for the injured humpback whale. A global review of vessel collisions carried out in 2020 showed that at least 75 marine species were at risk; as well as whales and dolphins, dugongs, sharks, seals, sea otters, sea turtles, and penguins were all on the list.
"We know that vessel collisions are one of the most significant and widespread threats that whales are facing today," Stack said. "Cases like these are tragic, but we hope they can be used to raise awareness and prevent future deaths."
Other marine mammals like orcas and sea otters have been reclaiming the oceans from watercraft by sinking yachts and stealing surfboards. And when it comes to good whale news, two humpbacks have also been seen making Fibonacci spirals while feeding in Antarctica.