Passengers aboard a boat off the coast of Spain recently reported seeing a distressed whale entangled in fishing gear. When officials investigated, they discovered something stranger.
The Spanish Civil Guard dispatched a ship to assist the whale, which was reportedly floundering near a beach in Valencia, about 200 miles southwest of Barcelona, according to a March 6 news release from a local oceanarium.
Upon getting close to the massive cetacean, which measured about 55 feet, biologists determined that it suffered from severe scoliosis. The creature’s spine was contorted at what appeared to be a 140-degree angle, and it struggled to swim.
The cause of the animal’s extremely curved vertebrae is not known, researchers said.
And due to the whale’s size and its position in the open ocean, researchers were unable to attach a tracker to its body to further study it.
Officials and biologists followed the distressed creature for several hours before it swam away from the coastline.
Because of its poor condition, it could make a reappearance along the shore in the coming days, researchers said.
Officials did not state which species the whale belongs to.
Whales, unlike people, are not believed to spontaneously develop scoliosis, according to a 2021 study published in the journal Nature.
“Several reports on cetaceans with scoliosis exist, however all cases have a clear cause which is mostly of traumatic origin, e.g. following ship collision,” the study states.
An estimated 20,000 whales are killed every year as a result of collisions with ships, according to 2021 research from Friends of the Sea, a nonprofit organization. Most are never found since their bodies sink to the bottom of the sea.
Some of those whales, including the North Atlantic right whale and the humpback whale, were hunted to the brink of extinction and are now considered endangered, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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