Endangered Right Whale populations rebound

Right whale #1612 and her calf 30 miles east of Wassaw Island on February 24.  The calf was hit by a boat between January 21 and January 29, probably offshore of northeast Florida.  The scars are consistent with an outboard engine propeller like those found on many recreational boats.  Boaters should keep a sharp watch for whales and reduce their speeds when traveling within 30 miles of the Southeast U.S. coastline from November 15 to April 15.  Photo by Sea to Shore Alliance, taken under NMFS permit #15488.

North Atlantic right whale and calf (Photo Courtesy of Savannah Morning News)

Among the most popular whales sighted by those who go on the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company’s whale watching cruises or just happen to see whales during their time on the Islands, endangered right whale births have rebounded this year. While this news comes to us courtesy of the Savannah, Georgia newspaper Savannah Morning News, it bodes well for summer whale watching off the Maine and New Hampshire coasts. Right whales migrate to higher latitudes during spring and summer.

From the newspaper:

For a North Atlantic right whale named Foster it was a momentous winter in the waters off the Georgia and Florida coasts. Not only did Foster give birth here, but so did her daughter. That made Foster one of a pair of new grandmothers among the 20 North Atlantic right whales that calved this winter.

This is good news for what is considered one of the most endangered whale species, as the newspaper notes in its report on their breeding habits:

Every winter, right whales head south from summer feeding grounds in New England and Canada to the waters off south Georgia and north Florida to give birth to their calves. With an estimated 450-500 individuals remaining, the animals are considered the most endangered of all large whales.

Researchers were particularly worried last year.

The tally of births for the season, which is winding down in Georgia, is about average but comes as a relief after last year’s low count of only six babies born to the highly endangered species.

Most people don’t realize that female right whales are larger than their male counterparts. The distinguishing features for both sexes include a stocky body, black coloration (although some have white patches on their bellies), no dorsal fin, a large head (about 1/4 of the body length), strongly bowed lower lip, and callosities (raised patches of roughened skin) on their head. Two rows of long–up to 8 feet (2.4 m)–dark baleen plates hang from their upper jaw, with about 225 plates on each side. Their tail is broad, deeply notched, and all black with a smooth trailing edge.

As baleen whales, their primary food sources are zooplankton, including copepods, euphausiids, and cyprids. Unlike other baleen whales, right whales are skimmers so they feed by removing prey from the water using baleen while moving with their mouth open through a patch of zooplankton.

Find the article here.
In case the hyperlink doesn’t work, the web address for it is: http://savannahnow.com/news/2013-03-19/births-endangered-right-whales-rebound#.UUnsHzeZZ8G

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