There’s been a recent spike in sightings of whales who have lost their tails in the Northwestern United States. So far this year, three grey whales without tails have been spotted near the coast of California. The most likely culprit for these injuries, according to oceanographers, is that the mammals are getting caught up in fishing equipment. National Geographic has reported on this trend, saying that “when whales are feeding in areas with debris, man-made objects or fishing gear, nets or ropes can get stuck at their tail’s base, slowly sawing off their flukes. Ropes and nets can also cut off blood circulation, causing a whale’s tail to wither away.”
While some whales are able to survive the initial injury, they have to go on without a vital part of their body. As a result, NOAA officials believe that the majority, if not all of the whales will die from their injuries. The problem is that the tail serves as a propeller and helps move the whale anywhere from slowly along the ocean floor at feeding time to powering it along its migrational path from Mexico to the Arctic. The tail is also one of the primary forms of defense that mother whales have when it comes to defending their young from predators.
Between the years of 2000 to 2012, there was an average of 10 tailless whales spotted each year. In 2017, that number jumped to 31. Researchers admit that the increase may be because more people are now keeping an eye out for the injured animals, but they are still concerned about the increase.