New hope for North Atlantic right whales after 7 calves are spotted
Seven new North Atlantic right whale calves have been spotted in Cape Cod Bay off the coast of Massachusetts this year. The sightings are good news for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales and a much hoped for improvement after no new calves were spotted last year.
While the new calves are a step in the right direction, experts warn the population is far from fully recovering.
This month, three pairs of North Atlantic right whale mothers and calves were spotted in the bay, and two of the most recent sightings are credited to an aerial survey team from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.
Seven mothers and their calves were spotted by researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation over that past several months.
One of the sightings proved for the first time that a whale tagged as whale #4180 was female when previously, the sex of #4180 was unknown.
Currently, only 450 right whales are what remain from a dwindling species that was hunted to near extinction by whalers in the 1800s.
Despite conservation efforts, the North Atlantic right whale continues to suffer from pollution, shipping collisions, and other human activities like fishing.
One of the new mothers, #4180, has wounds on her back from getting caught up in fishing gear.
Researchers who spotted the calves warn that too much media coverage and hype surrounding the calves can lead to a false impression that the whales are recovering successfully, but this is not the case.
For the population to be on track to recovery, around 17 new calves would have to be born per year.
“The signs are better than they were last year or the year before, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” Philip Hamilton, New England Aquarium research scientist, told The Scientist last month.
Besides a decline in overall calf births, there have also been 20 recorded right whale deaths since 2017.
“We haven’t even broken even on number of dead whales with new births, and that is what the last decade or so has been trending towards,” said Jen Jakush, a biologist from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “The population is definitely in decline.”
It is currently projected that right whales will go extinct within the next two decades.