MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla. (WSVN) — A critically endangered young North Atlantic right whale was hit and killed by a boat.

The 1-year-old whale was recently seen near Melbourne Beach, Florida, but was found dead off the coast of Georgia. The death is a big blow to beachgoers and scientists as the species teeters on the brink of extinction.

One of the last places the young whale was last seen was at Spessard Holland South Beach Park back in early February.

Joel Cohen, who attended the whale’s necropsy, said the aquatic mammal suffered blunt force trauma to the head and a cracked skull.

After recovering the whale, researchers discovered the cause of death was a boat strike.

“We have to do something about vessel strikes, or this species is going to go extinct,” said Cohen. 

Cohen, a drone pilot for the Right Whale Sighting Network, was able to watch the whale grow up after he took a drone video when the calf was born at the end of 2022. He spotted her again South Brevard County, days before her death.

“When we get a happy, charismatic animal flopping around, it’s good for the soul,” he added. 

People were devastated when the calf’s carcass was seen floating in Georgia last week.

Betty Gonzalez shared photos and videos of the right whale with a Fox news station and she said she remembered seeing the newborn playing with its mother and dolphins just behind her home on the beach.

“It’s just crazy to know that there’s so many not making it, and I don’t want to lose them,” the beachgoer added. 

Boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are the leading causes of death for those whales. Currently, there are only 350 whales left and fewer than 70 reproductive females in the entire species.

Cohen believes people are not aware of the impact whales have on our ocean.

“If the species were to go extinct, it would devastate the overall ecosystem,” he said.

He calls right whales “the nutrient pump or what’s called the gardeners of the ocean” because of how they feed and keep the ocean environment healthy. 

With so few left, it’s important to report right whale sightings, so the species has a chance at survival. The number you should call and keep on hand is 888-97-WHALE (94253). It’s crucial because that puts a notice out, so boaters can avoid the area, so the whale isn’t accidentally hit and killed by a boat. 

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