Body of endangered whale off S.C. coast attracts host of sharks, other wildlife

Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 4:54 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - The body of a North American Right Whale less than 20 miles off the South Carolina coast is now attracting a host of sharks.

The whale, a 12-year-old male known as “Cottontail,” has been tracked for months while entangled. Researchers unsuccessfully tried to untangle him in February. He was found dead off the coast of Myrtle Beach last weekend. Researchers said he had been entangled in fishing rope since first being spotted late last year in New England.

New photos showed the rope still attached that contributed to the whale’s death.

Since its death, the whale’s carcass has become an ecosystem of its own, attracting birds, fish - and most notably, Great White Sharks.

Video obtained by WMBF News from South Carolina fisherman and shark tagger Capt. Chip Michalove showed sharks feasting on the dead whale.

He called finding the whale, “amazing” and said he saw at least seven sharks getting up to around 400 pounds worth of dinner from Cottontail.

A team contracted by the Army Corps of Engineers has also been in the Grand Strand to study right whales since December. That team, the Right Whale Aerial Survey Program, flies 35 miles off the coast of Myrtle Beach each morning, looking for right whales to learn more about them.

“Early in the season we were picking up mom and calf pairs and then we were picking up young individuals that weren’t yet sexually mature,” said Christi Bubac, team leader of the Right Whale Aerial Survey Program. “And then, of course, now Cottontail. So we know that they’re here and it’s important for people to know that they’re here and to remain vigilant when they’re out there.”

Bubac also said they alert boats while they’re out if they see a whale to keep the 500-yard minimum distance, which is required by federal law.

Experts said the North American Right Whale can live to be up to 70 years old. Bubac added that Cottontail’s death is a tremendous loss for the critically-endangered species with less than 400 whales left. She said what’s left of the carcass is moving 1-2 miles per hour south, 10-15 miles off the coast.

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