Births of Endangered Right Whales Are at an All-time Peak Since 2015

Births of endangered right whales are at an all-time peak since 2015
A North Atlantic right whale mother and a calf in waters near Wassaw Island, Georgia, Jan. 19, 2021....

North Atlantic right whales gave birth in larger numbers this winter than biologists have seen since 2015, a positive sign for biologists who were concerned three years ago when the endangered species had no recorded offspring at all. From December to March, survey teams observed 17 newborn right whale calves floating with their mothers offshore between Florida and North Carolina.

The total calf count equals the number of the previous three years. This covers the horrific 2018 calving season, which saw no right whale births for the first time in three decades. Researchers conclude they will need higher numbers in the coming years for North Atlantic right whales to recover from a current population of 360.

“What we are seeing is what we hope will be the beginning of an upward climb in calving that’s going to continue for the next few years,” said Clay George, a wildlife biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources who supervises right whale surveys. “They need to be producing about two dozen calves per year for the population to stabilize and continue to grow again.”

Every winter, right whales migrate to the warmer Atlantic waters off the southeastern United States to give birth. During the calving season, skilled spotters fly across the coastline nearly every day, searching the ocean for mothers with newborns.

Survey flights over Georgia, and Florida ended on March 31st, the season’s final day. Spotters will be patrolling the waters of the Carolinas until April 15, trying to spot some unnoticed baby whales as the whales move north to feed.

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Scientists believe a lack of zooplanktons caused a recent calving decline to feed right whales in the Gulf of Maine. They believe the increase in births this season is due to whales becoming happier after moving to waters with more plentiful food supplies.

“It’s a somewhat hopeful sign they are adjusting to this new regime where females are in good enough condition to give birth,” said Philip Hamilton, a right whale specialist at Boston’s New England Aquarium.

Regardless, environmentalists are concerned that right whales are dying at a higher pace than they can breed, primarily due to man-made factors.

Since 2017, scientists have reported 34 right whale deaths in U.S. and Canadian waters, with entrapment in fishing gear and accidents with ships being the leading factors. Given that more whales were identified at the same time with severe injuries that made them impossible to survive, researchers say the actual death rate may be at least 49.

“If we reduced or eliminated the human-caused death rate, their birth rate would be fine,” Hamilton said. “The onus should not be on them to reproduce at a rate that can sustain the rate at which we kill them. The onus should be in us to stop killing.”

The federal government will ratify new legislation soon aimed at reducing the number of right whales trapped in lobster and crab fishing gear in the Northeast. Proposals to eliminate vertical fishing lines in the water and alter seasonal limits have caused intense debate. Fishers complain that the new legislation would push them out of business, while environmentalists argue they are not strict enough.

Georgia’s whale survey coordinator George said: “We’ve long known from the survival estimates that more right whales are dying than those we see. They need to be producing a lot more calves. But the big issue is we’ve got to significantly reduce the number than are being entangled in fishing ropes and struck by boats.”

About News Team

Hi, I'm Alex Perez, an experienced writer with a focus on lifestyle and culture news. From food and fashion to travel and entertainment, I love exploring the latest trends and sharing my insights with readers. I also have a strong interest in world news and business, and enjoy covering breaking stories and events.

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