Vilano Beach, Fla – The Clearwater Marine Aquarium said Tuesday that the first right whale calves of the season have been spotted off the coasts of Florida and Georgia.
Officials with the aquarium said on Dec. 4 an aerial survey team spotted the first calf with its mother off the coast of Cumberland Island, Georgia. Two days later, a team with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spotted a second calf with its mom off the coast of Vilano Beach in St. Johns County.
“During our third survey of the season, CMARI aerial observer Marcy Lee sighted a whale. She knew in that moment it was a North Atlantic right whale calf. The first large whale of the season and it was a calf! Soon enough the team knew the mother would surface for a breath of air and the calving season would have the first live mother-calf right whale pair,” said Melanie White, North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation Project Manager and Research Biologist with Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
The right whale is a federally protected endangered species under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute aerial survey teams works closely with NOAA, Georgia DNR, and FWC to document the daily lives of the whales in the wild.
“Recovery had been slow and steady until 2010 when we started to see a decline. Most recent population models show that the numbers are declining again for various reasons including a slow reproduction rate, threats from entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with large vessels, and possibly other factors not yet identified” said Dr. James Powell, Executive Director of CMARI.
Researchers estimate there are less than 400 North Atlantic right whales left in the population, with fewer than 100 breeding females left. Calving grounds for these whales include areas off the coasts of northeast Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.