Environment

Right Whale Season In Southeast Ends Without A Single Calf Sighting

A 9-year-old right whale, left, and a smaller right whale were spotted 30 miles east of Jekyll Island on Feb. 15. The calving season for North Atlantic right whales has ended, and no calves were found.
A 9-year-old right whale, left, and a smaller right whale were spotted 30 miles east of Jekyll Island on Feb. 15. The calving season for North Atlantic right whales has ended, and no calves were found.
Credit Sea to Shore Alliance, taken under NOAA research permit 20556
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The calving season for North Atlantic right whales is now over without a single calf turning up.

The endangered whales have their babies in the winter off the coasts of Georgia and North Florida, only this year, researchers didn’t find any, and there’s concern about the future of the species.

There are about 450 North Atlantic right whales left. They were driven nearly to extinction by the whaling industry. While the population has been slowly growing, the past year has been terrible for them.

Clay George, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said the lack of calves is unprecedented in recent years.

This graphic shows the North Atlantic right whale calf count. In the past 10 years, researchers counted an average of 18 right whale calves each year. This season they have not seen any. (Source: North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. Credit: Katie Park/NPR
This graphic shows the North Atlantic right whale calf count. In the past 10 years, researchers counted an average of 18 right whale calves each year. This season, they did not see any. (Source: North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. Credit: Katie Park/NPR)

“The fact that the number of calves that are being seen has dropped off is certainly very concerning,” he said. “But we’re much more concerned about the number of whales that have been dying in recent years.”

READ MORE: The Search For Right Whales Off The Georgia Coast

In the last 12 months, 18 dead right whales have been spotted, about 4 percent of the entire species. Several of those were tangled in fishing gear.

The whales spend summers off the coast of New England.

Last year, many turned up farther north in Canada, which is where 12 were found dead. Canada recently announced new protections for the whales.

Right whale experts say the females aren’t living as long, and they’re giving birth less often. Climate change could be having an effect on their food.

But the most acute problems, researchers say, come from fishing gear and ships. Whales get tangled in strong ropes used in fishing, and they get hit by boats.

George said he thinks the whale population could recover if those issues were resolved.

“Right whales, we think, can live probably 100 years or more, so you really have to look at it as a long game,” he said.