In “considerable pain”, a determined humpback whale that has been tracked by researchers for more than a decade, recently finished swimming more than 3,000 miles from Canada to Hawaii – all with a broken spine.
Moon, a lone humpback whale, traveled from British Columbia to Maui with a serious spinal injury from a collision with a ship, according to a post the non-profit research group BC Whales shared on Facebook.
The whale was spotted in waters near the Hawaiian island on December 1.
She was immediately identified due to her twisted body which researchers believe was caused by being hit by a ship.
Every September for the past decade, researchers at the Fin Island Research Station in Gitga’at First Nations territory have spotted Moon in coastal waters feeding on krill.
In 2020, researchers said they were thrilled when she appeared with a calf, passing on to her offspring the tradition of migration between feeding and breeding grounds.
But in September, researchers noticed something different.
“The heartbreaking images of her twisted body moved us all,” BC Whales posted Thursday on Facebook. “She was probably in a lot of pain, but she migrated thousands of miles without being able to propel herself with her tail.”
The whale’s journey left her emaciated and covered in whale lice, a testament to her severely impaired condition, researchers said.
“This is the stark reality of a collision with a ship, and it speaks to the prolonged suffering that whales can endure afterwards,” they wrote. “It also speaks to their instincts and their culture: how far whales will go to follow patterns of behavior.”
‘Just break your heart’
Janie Wray, CEO and principal researcher of BC Whales, told the Guardian that Moon’s injury meant the whale had to swim differently to complete its journey.
“Without the use of her tail, she was literally breaststroke to perform this migration. It’s absolutely amazing,” she told the outlet. “But it also breaks your heart.”
Attempts to euthanize Moon, Wray said, would require “a cocktail of toxic substances” and risk poisoning marine life that would feed on his remains.
“If she was on land, we could step in,” Wray told the outlet. “But because she’s in the ocean and because of her size, there’s nothing we can do about it. And that breaks your heart even more to pieces.
3 bald eagles die: Eagles die, 10 sick after eating carcasses of euthanized animals
Shark attack?: Hawaii officials search for missing woman after shark sighting
Wray could not immediately be reached for comment by USA TODAY.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, marine animals can be difficult for a vessel operator to see because they are not always visible from the surface. Even if the operator sees the animal clearly, neither of them may have time to avoid a collision.
Endangered North Atlantic right whales are particularly vulnerable to ship strikes because their habitat and migration routes are close to major ports and often overlap shipping lanes, the administration said.
Speed limits in the ocean? : Massive ships kill endangered whales every year.
A devastating end
Researchers said Moon’s current condition would not allow him to survive return to Canada.
“Tenacity and tragedy. Moon… won’t be coming back,” they said. “We will never truly understand the strength it took for Moon to undertake what is sadly his last journey, but it is up to us to respect such tenacity within another species and recognize that collisions with ships lead to a devastating end.”
For more information on vessel strikes, visit www.seeablowgoslow.org or www.fisheries.noaa.gov/insight/understanding-vessel-strikes.
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Humpback whale swims 3,000 miles with broken back – Canada to Hawaii