RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – In a sign of hope for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a newborn calf was sighted southeast of the Chesapeake Bay earlier this week.
This calf marks the 15th calf of the 2021/2022 right whale calving season. It was spotted during an aerial research survey on Wednesday March 2 conducted by the Clearwater Aquarium Research Institute’s team east of Currituck National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. Right whales have their calves from November to April in the calving grounds from North Carolina to Florida.
Right whales are cataloged by the New England Aquarium to keep track of individual whales. They can be identified by the callosity patterns on their head, with each whale having a unique pattern. The right whale mother spotted with her calf on Wednesday is catalog #4180. This is her second known calf. Her first calf was born back in 2019. Three years is a typical length of time between births for right whales.
These whales are critically endangered and there are estimated to be only 336 right whales remaining in the North Atlantic (this figure does not yet include calves borne this year and last). They get their name because they were the “right” whale to hunt before hunting of these whales was banned in 1935.
In recent years, the right whale population has continued to decline due to accidental human impacts including entanglements with heavy fishing gear and ship strikes. An Unusual Mortality Event of right whales was declared by NOAA in 2017. Approximately 34 whales are known to have died since 2017 as a result of human impacts, with another 16 whales considered seriously injured and likely to die as a result of their injuries.
Boaters off the coast of the Mid-Atlantic are encouraged to slow down (vessels larger than 65 feet or greater are required to slow down to 10 knots or less in certain areas, including off the coast of Virginia) and keep an eye out for whales , particularly from October through April when whales migrate along the east coast. People are required by law to stay 500 yards away from right whales because of their critically endangered status.
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