Successful right whale calving season but fight continues for critically endangered species

Updated: Apr. 15, 2021 at 5:32 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Thursday marks the end of right whale calving season. Impressively, 17 mother-calf pairs were spotted off Southeastern shores.

“Seventeen calves is a pretty solid number compared to what we’ve seen in recent years,” Georgia Department of Natural Resources Senior Wildlife Biologist Clay George said.

George spends time out on the water tracking and untangling these critically endangered right whales. He says while the baby boom is great - keeping them alive is just as important.

“Calves are really important, but for a species like a right whale, we think they’re really long lived; we think they probably live for a century,” George said. “So, we’re more concerned with say the survival of a given female, who’s going to have hopefully many calves during the course of her life than we are about the number of calves that are born in any given year.”

That’s the flip side of this season. Right whale, Infinity, and her calf were struck by a 54 foot sportfishing boat near St. Augustine. Her calf did not survive.

There were two entangled whales - one being Cottontail that charter boat captain Chip Michalove filmed. He became a feast for sharks after becoming entangled sometime in October.

Biologists did manage to attach a GPS tracker on him when they found him shortly before his death, but it unexplainably failed.

“And that really points out the fact that we can’t fix every entangled whale when this happens. We have to really focus on preventing them from becoming entangled to start with,” George said.

George recently helped write a plan for the whales he hopes NOAA Fisheries will put in place on the lobster industry.

“It would reduce the number of buoy ropes that are attached to the lobster pots. That’s a big problem; there are hundreds of thousands of buoy ropes attached to lobster pots in New England waters,” he said.

So far, five out of the 17 mother/calf pairs have been spotted migrating back in New England. George says he hopes all are accounted for before the year is out.

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