Officials hail 'encouraging' number of north Atlantic right whale births

  • At least 14 new calves seen off south-eastern US this season
  • Advocacy group warns of ongoing ‘unusual mortality event’

Wildlife officials in Florida have reported an “encouraging” number of sightings of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales off the south-eastern US, including at least 14 new calves, three born to first-time mothers.

The total count of winter sightings of the species has reached 65, the Florida state fish and wildlife conservation commission reported in its latest bulletin on Thursday.

On Friday, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA) reported an additional sighting of a right whale named Champagne and its newborn calf off Amelia Island, Florida. Champagne, 12, was one of three new mothers recorded this season. The others, Infinity and Catalog #3720, which has no recorded name, are 19 and 14 years old respectively, state authorities said.

With the 11 other recorded newborns, the numbers represent what the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife says is the “most encouraging calving season in years”.

But Jane Davenport, the group’s senior attorney, warned that right whales had been experiencing an “unusual mortality event” since 2017, with 32 confirmed deaths in US and Canadian waters as well as 14 serious or non-survivable injuries.

“While these births are an encouraging sign, the continued threats underscore that we still have to redouble our efforts to protect these vulnerable babies and their mothers,” Davenport said.

“Right whales face a daily gauntlet of fishing ropes and speeding vessels, which together have caused the deaths of more than 200 right whales in the last decade alone. We’re killing right whales far faster than they can reproduce. Unless we move quickly to abate these threats, we’re running out of time to save the species from extinction.”

According to FWC, the ages of the right whales spotted this winter range from one year to older than 47. Most sightings at this time of year take place in Atlantic waters from North Carolina to Florida.

A catalog of all 766 right whales recorded since 1935 is maintained by the New England Aquarium, in Boston. According to Defenders of Wildlife, scientists estimated that only around 356 right whales were alive at the end of 2019. Of those, fewer than 70 were adult females.


Richard Luscombe in Miami

The GuardianTramp

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