It's a story both inspiring and heartbreaking, and one that marine wildlife experts have been monitoring with admiration and deep concern. For at least the last decade, a humpback whale named Moon has been on the radar of scientists at the Fin Island whale research station off of British Columbia's North Coast region. She has shown up each September to feast on krill before heading down to warmer waters near Hawaii—a 3,100-mile journey she's apparently taken annually for her entire life, per the Guardian. But this past September, a whale emerged near the research station with a serious injury to its lower back, likely from a boat strike: "The entire lower portion of its trunk [was] bent into an unnatural 'S' shape," the Guardian notes. Janie Wray calls it an "oh, my God" moment when they realized the injured whale was Moon.
"She was struck by something pretty hard," said Wray. "I've never seen anything like that in my lifetime as a researcher." Wray says that, due to Moon's condition, she would've been unable to use her tail to propel her through the waters. Still, earlier this month, Moon completed her long trip, popping up near Maui. A video on KHON2 shows Moon using her pectoral fins—the two fins located on each side of her—to do what's akin to a breaststroke to push herself along. "Making it here from [Canada] with just its pectoral fins is like doing the Ironman on your hands!" one astonished observer notes in the comments. Wray tells the CBC that it's not clear why Moon made the arduous journey while injured; the scientist says it's possible she's pregnant or just adhering to "tradition."
Moon, who's lost a lot of weight and is covered in whale lice, can't even be euthanized, because the toxins involved in such a process could harm other creatures feeding off her carcass. "If she was on land, we could intervene," Wray says. In the ocean, "there is nothing that we can do." Wray adds: "She is going to pass soon and we all feel: the sooner, the better." The researcher notes she hopes Moon's plight serves as a warning on boat strikes amid a growing whale population. "The most important thing to do is everybody needs to slow down, especially in areas where we know there are whales," she says. As for Moon, Wray notes: "I can't even find the words to express the amount of honor—and respect—that I have for her." (Read more humpback whale stories.)