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Dec. 25 - Right Whale Sightings Raise Hope of New Calves

Category: Georgia News

Brunswick Business Journal Staff Report

December 25, 2018 - The rising count of adult female North Atlantic right whales off the Georgia coast is hopefully a sign of younger whales to come according to Georgia's Department of Natural Resources.

Sea to Shore Alliance, which surveys by plane for the endangered whales December through March, spotted females 2503 and 3808 – nicknamed Boomerang and Magnet – about 20 miles off Tybee Island a week ago. Last week, three more adult females were seen off Ossabaw and Wassaw islands.

The identification and known history of the last three whales was not immediately available. But scientists know that Boomerang is 23 years old and last had a calf in 2014. Magnet has not calved, but at 10 could be pregnant.

The calf watch off Georgia and north Florida, the species’ only known calving grounds, has been intensified by the dwindling number of North Atlantic right whales – down to the low 400s – and the fact no calves were seen last winter, a first since comprehensive aerial surveys began in the 1980s ("Bleak winter," April 10).

The double-barreled decline is tied to two issues, according to DNR senior wildlife biologist Clay George.

One, right whales are suffering and dying from entanglement in commercial fishing rope, primarily from lobster, crab and other pot fisheries in New England and Canada. Two, because of climate-related changes in plankton food resources, whales are shifting from summer feeding areas in the Gulf of Maine farther north into Canada to feed, a move that requires more time for females to replenish fat reserves.

Fewer healthy, reproductive-age females means fewer calves. Which means fewer right whales. Which means the potential moms seen off Georgia’s coast are even more critical for the survival of North Atlantic right whales.

More than 80 percent of right whales have been entangled in commercial fishing rope. In 2017, seven were found dead from rope entanglements.


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