The year is ending on a positive note for the endangered North Atlantic right whale population. The first right whale calf of the 2018-2019 calving season was photographed off the coast of Florida on December 28, 2018. Chad Leedy, a trained endangered species observer for Coastwise Consulting, photographed the two whales while working on the dredge Bayport off Jacksonville Beach, Fla. Chris Slay, the owner of Coastwise Consulting, sent the images to the right whale community, and we were able to quickly match them to the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog.
We have been following the mother, Catalog No. 2791, for 21 years. She was first sighted at an unknown age in the Bay of Fundy in 1997. She was seen every year from 1997 to 2012, during which time she had two calves—in 2006 and in 2009. She wasn’t seen between 2012 and 2016, but has been a regular visitor to the Gulf of St. Lawrence since 2016.
When in good condition, a right whale can give birth every three years. No. 2791’s apparent nine-year gap between calves highlights one of the two main challenges this species faces:
- High human-caused mortality and injury—primarily from entanglement in ropes from fishing gear and (to a lesser extent) vessel strikes, and
- Reduced reproduction likely caused by a combination of injuries sustained from past entanglements and poor body condition brought on by poor feeding in a rapidly changing ocean.
After the complete absence of calves last year, seeing one in December is encouraging. The calving season extends from December through the end of March, so there is plenty of time to discover more. We expect to see No. 2791 and her calf make their way up the coast in late winter and appear in New England waters in April or May.
Banner Image: #2791 and calf on December 28, 2018, off the Florida coast.
Photo: Chad Leedy/Coastwise Consulting