'Horrific' Photo Shows Whale With Sliced-off Tail After Boat Collision: 'Shrilling Calls of Pain and Fear'

A photographer has captured the tragic sight of a pilot whale whose tail was severed when it was struck by the propeller of a boat.

The graphic image, taken by Francis Pérez off the Canary Islands and shared to Instagram Wednesday by fellow photographer Cristina Mittermeier, has gone viral online, receiving almost 50,000 likes as of 4.30 a.m. ET.

Pérez attended the scene with a wildlife veterinarian and a marine biologist after onlookers heard the young whale's "shrilling calls of pain and fear" as it tried to swim, according to Mittermeier's post.

The injury was so critical that the trio decided to euthanize the animal "with the kind of sorrow that can only be understood by people with enough empathy to do what they had to do," the biologist and wrote.

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Extremely sensitive content. Please watch. Photo by @FrancisPerez000. This horrific image of a young pilot whale that lost its tail after being hit by a boat propeller off the coast of the Canary Islands is meant to be a wake up call. Was it hit by a ship, a ferry or a pleasure boat? We will never know, but I have certainly seen many boats traveling at high speeds through sensitive wildlife corridors. Only three people were there to hear the shrilling calls of pain and fear of this young whale as it struggled to swim. The photographer, the marine biologist and the wildlife veterinarian who were called to the scene were not able to help an animal with such a severe injury. All they could do was pull it out of the water and, with the kind of sorrow that can only be understood by people with enough empathy to do what they had to do, they euthanized it. Sparing more unnecessary suffering to an animal with no chance of recovery was what they had to do. What the rest of us need to do is to become more engaged it. Enforcing regulations on vessel speed limits is very difficult but it all begins with awareness and public pressure; the kind that demands that the voices of thousands of people are heard. As angry and sad as this makes me, I am also extremely motivated to do something about this. I am working with @SeaLegacy to create a global movement of people who want to push for legislative changes that prevent this type of accident. You can add your voice to ours by going to the link on my bio.

A post shared by Cristina Mittermeier (@cristinamittermeier) on

Describing the "horrific" photo as a "wake up call," Mittermeier asked others to become more engaged with the issue. "Enforcing regulations on vessel speed limits is very difficult but it all begins with awareness and public pressure; the kind that demands that the voices of thousands of people are heard," she continued.

The activist, who co-founded marine conservation nonprofit SeaLegacy, added that her group is pushing for legislation that would help stop this kind of incident.

A spokesperson for SeaLegacy told Newsweek that although it's impossible to know exactly how many incidents like this occur, they will likely become more common as marine traffic increases and whale populations become healthier.

"After being hit by a vessel, most cetaceans sink and never surface. They are not killed immediately, but rather sustain fatal injuries that prevent them from feeding, swimming or breathing. They die slowly," the spokesperson said. "The image Francis Perez was able to share is rare and important. His picture shows us what we often hear about but can't see. The impact of ships on whales is real, and it's devastating."

The International Whaling Commission has created a plan to help address the problem, which includes recording information on strike incidents: Which species are being hit and how fast boats involved in strikes are travelling.

Speed is a key factor in dangerous collisions. "The most immediate thing we can do to minimize this is slow down," the SeaLegacy spokesperson said.

Readers concerned about strike incidents can offer their support to local initiatives aimed at improving regulation and monitoring. Although boats hit, injure and kill whales all around the world, "change often starts in specific areas with localized action," the spokesperson added.

Whale, Tail, Boat
File photo: A pilot whale is pictured swimming in a body of water. Getty

Instagram users were shocked by Pérez's image, and praised those who made the difficult decision to euthanize the animal. "To [euthanize] is the most heroic act, my heart goes out to the heroes who helped this suffering child of the planet," commented one user.

Another said: "[This] was the best outcome. If left unattended it would be an agonizing slow road to certain death. Especially if predators were around."

Other users called for tighter regulations on boats in the area. One commented: "My heart breaks. I hope there is major reform. With the amount of ships, their speeds, and regulating their time on the water."

Another user added: "I wish we could push for mandated propeller guards or inboard motors, or jet boats only in sensitive areas. We are seeing to much of this."

Two crew members on an Icelandic fishing boat came under fire in May after they filmed themselves cutting off the tail of a live shark that got tangled in a rope. The men appear to smile and laugh in the clip, which quickly went viral after it was shared by a shocked Facebook user. "Good luck trying to swim, you punk," one of the men is heard saying off-screen as the bleeding creature tries to swim away.

The footage provoked outrage online, prompting Game of Thrones and Aquaman actor Jason Mamoa, to write on Instagram: "Never have I wanted to hurt a human as much as I did when I heard your laugh and what [you] said...we all make mistakes but what [you] did was evil PURE EVIL. You will get what that shark got. F*** YOU."

This article has been updated with comment from a SeaLegacy spokesperson.