Emaciated Whale With Sliced Off Tail Photographed Dying in the Mediterranean

A photographer has captured heartbreaking images of a "dying" whale in the Mediterranean Sea that has lost its tail.

The fin whale, dubbed "Fluker," has been known to experts working in the Pelagos marine sanctuary—a protected area located off the coasts of France, Italy and Monaco—for more than 20 years.

In fact, when researchers in the region first spotted Fluker in the late 1990s, the whale was particularly recognizable because it was already missing half its tail. Remarkably, the whale managed to survive for many years, but now its days appear to be numbered.

Sightings of the whale toward the end of last year revealed that the whole of its tail was now missing. Experts think she could have lost the rest of her tail after it was cut off by a ship's propeller. Alternatively, it may have become snagged in fishing gear, French newspaper Le Monde reported.

On Friday, underwater photographer Alexis Rosenfeld posted several images of the whale that were taken earlier this month in the waters off Toulon on France's southern coast during a trip on the the World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) sailing boat "Blue Panda."

In the images, the whale is clearly emaciated. Even though these animals can live for months without food, the fact she is a missing a tail means that Fluker is not able to dive properly, hampering her ability to feed on krill, which she relies on to survive.

"It is an extremely rare image that I wanted to share because it testifies to the distress of the animal," Rosenfeld told French newspaper Le Parisien. "Fluker has been starving for months. She draws on her reserves but today she is emaciated, weakened, moves very slowly and seems to be in agony."

WWF France's program director Arnaud Gauffier said that without her tail, the whale can no longer move normally.

"When you see the state of her body, you know she is going to die, that's obvious," Gauffier told Le Parisien. "Until now, she had managed to live with half a caudal fin, but since she lost the other half, she has totally hollowed out sides, only skin on her bones and [is] visibly wasting away. Deprived of her means of propulsion, Fluker can no longer probe the great depths in search of krill, those little shrimps she loves."

fin whale
Stock image: A fin whale. iStock

"What is especially shocking is the fact that human activities have been able to put [the whale] in this state," Gauffier told the Agence France-Presse.

Fin whales—the second largest animal in the word after blue whales—are found in deep, offshore waters of all the planet's major oceans, primarily in temperate to polar regions, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

However, in the Pelagos sanctuary, WWF estimates that between around 10 and 40 fin whales die every year as a result of collisions with ships, Le Monde reported.