The North Atlantic right whale is experience a baby boom. After years of bad news, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the species is endangered. According to the latest estimates, only 411 right whales remain in the world.
So far this winter, researchers have seen seven new calves with their mothers in the waters of the southeastern United States, where right whales stay before returning to Canada. This is a delightful news, after years where the number of mortalities has exceeded that of births.
The seventh calf was sighted in mid-February, says Barb Zoodsma, marine biologist at NOAA, the US agency for the study of the oceans and the atmosphere
From Fernandina Beach, Florida, Ms. Zoodsma noted that no calves had been seen in the previous winter and had seen just five previous ones, but the average of the past 10 years is 17 pairs mother-baby by season. We are not yet average, she says.
The winter of 2008-2009 was the best for scientists on the lookout for new births, with 39 newborns observed.
A healthy right whale can give birth to a calf every three or four years. In 2017, however, researchers began to notice that some females only gave birth once every 10 years.
Barb Zoodsma says this is due to several factors, including the stress caused by human activity and the difficulty of finding food sources. If the females do not have enough to eat, they will not breed, says Laurie Murison, director of the Marine Life Research Center in Grand Manan, New Brunswick.
Ms. Murison suggests that the number of calves seen this year may be a sign that right whales are finding sufficient food in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they head once the winter is over. This gives us some hope that the food resources are improving, she says. Also, a lot of social interaction was observed last summer in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, so it bodes well for the next year.
Victim of, among other things, collisions with ships or fatal entanglement in fishing ropes, North Atlantic right whales have been through a period marked by unusually high numbers of mortalities, says American biologist Barb Zoodsma . She hopes that more calves will be seen by the end of the calving season around mid-April. In 2017, no less than 17 North Atlantic right whales were found dead in Canadian and US waters, including 12 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Significant conservation measures for the species were then put in place, such as limiting the speed of vessels and closing fishing areas. No deaths due to human activity were reported in 2018 in Canadian waters.
In 2019, the area closed to fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to protect the right whale will be 63% smaller.