The birth of two small North Atlantic right whales off the coast of the United States gives some hope to this critically endangered species.
A battered species
Docile, slow and exceptionally rich in oil, North Atlantic right whales were extensively hunted in the early 1890s. Although these practices are no longer a serious problem for these mammals thanks to an international moratorium put established by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), other human activities still threaten them today. These include entanglement in fishing nets, collisions with ships, and increased noise pollution in the oceans.
NOAA estimates that there are only around 400 specimens left in the wild today, including around 100 breeding females. To get up, these mammals must therefore rely on births. And then again, the latest news was not encouraging.
While researchers have recorded between 1 and 39 births each year since the start of surveillance in 1989, the 2018 season was indeed illustrated with zero births recorded. 2017 did not do much better. During this period, the right whales of the North Atlantic had indeed suffered an “unusual mortality event” with about thirty specimens missing. On the other hand, only five births had been registered to compensate.
Two whale births that have done good
More recently, two calves have been spotted in US waters. Biologists at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida spotted the first cub on December 4 near Cumberland Island, Georgia. According to CNN, the young whale was born to 13-year-old Chiminea, who is a first-time mother.
The second cub, isolated on December 7 off Vilano Beach (Florida) swimming alongside Bottlenose Dolphins, was born to Millipede, sixteen years old.
Note that this year’s breeding season started off badly with the discovery in late November of a dead calf on the shore of a barrier island off North Carolina. “With a population at such low levels, every individual matters,” said Jamison Smith, executive director of the Blue World Research Institute, who took pictures of these newborn whales using drones.
However, there is still a long way to go for this species. To maintain their population, these whales would indeed have to give birth to about twenty young each year.