It’s one of the rarest species of whales in the planet, with only an estimated 411 remaining, but it seems there’s hope yet for the North Atlantic right whale: Researchers say the endangered right whales are experiencing a mini baby boom in waters off New England.
The Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown, Massachusetts, said on Friday its aerial survey team had spotted two mother and calf pairs in Cape Cod Bay a day earlier. That brings the number seen in New England waters alone this year to three, as another mother-calf pair was spotted previously on April 7.
This sighting heralds the arrival of the 2019 calves to their feeding grounds in the northeast. The whales give birth off Georgia and Florida in the winter and travel to feeding grounds off New England in the early spring.
Researchers are celebrating the sighting, especially since the whale’s population has been falling, and no calves were seen at all last year. In all, seven right whale calves have been seen in 2019, the Associated Press reported.
The mothers spotted on Thursday were identified by the CCS as EgNo 4180 and EgNo 3317.
EgNo 4180 and her calf were sighted in the southern portion of the bay. She was first seen by CCS in 2010, making her at least 9 years old. EgNo 3117, who was born in late 2002, and her calf were spotted in the middle part of the bay.
On April 7, CCS saw the right whale #1204, a whale of at least 38 years of age that was first seen in 1982, and her calf, which is #1204’s ninth-known calf.
North Atlantic right whales have a stocky black body, with no dorsal fin. Their tail is broad, deeply notched, and all black with a smooth trailing edge, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Their characteristic feature is raised patches of rough skin, called callosities, on their heads that appear white because of whale lice (cyamids). Each right whale has a unique pattern of these callosities, which scientists use to identify individual whales.
One of the greatest threats to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is entanglement in fishing lines. In 2018, EgNo 4180 was spotted with entanglement wounds on her peduncle and back.
It is illegal to approach a North Atlantic right within 500 yards (1500 feet) without a Federal Research Permit. However, according to the CCS, the right whales often feed very close to shore, offering whale watchers on land unbeatable views of one of the rarest of the marine mammals.
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