Right whale mom and calf © NOAA/NEFSC/Peter Duley
While it didn’t make history like the previous year, when a record 39 calves were born (!), this is reason to celebrate.
In 2000, things were looking very grim for right whales when only one calf was born. These low birth rates in combination with high death rates made many people wonder if we were too late to save this species.
However, there is cause for hope for right whales! Since 2001, there have been 238 right whales born to this struggling population including the 19 born this year – that’s an average 23 calves each year. So perhaps this species, which may very likely be on the brink of extinction, can be saved after all.
Their fate is not all in their ‘hands’ alone though.
Right whale surfacing © T. Wimmer
I can tell you from personal experience that there’s nothing like watching one of these animals take a huge breath and dive, their big dark bodies rolling through the water. The anticipation of the moment when they lift their giant 16-foot tail out of the water getting ready to charge down to the bottom of the sea floor in search of microscopic food makes you hold your breath in excitement – until you look closely and see the white scars on their tail where ropes have previously cut into their body, the unmistakable signs of having been caught in fishing gear. It takes your breath away and the excitement turns to sadness.
Right whale tail with scars © NOAA/NEFSC/Beth Josephson
As you’ve heard from Stacey McCarthy, this species has been plagued by deaths caused by human activities – primarily entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with vessels.
Scientists have found that over 70% of all known right whales have scars from being caught in fishing gear. Over the last 30 years, 33 right whales have been known to have died as a result of their entanglements including the 46-foot adult male that was found dead near Digby, NS in August 2010.
Unfortunately, many more individuals are known to be entangled in fishing gear. Their fate is unknown.
Right whale head entangled © Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies
This is why we are working so hard with fishermen, scientists, industry, managers and other conservation groups to reduce the chance of these whales, and others, from becoming struck by vessels or entangled in fishing gear.
Right whales are doing all they can to survive. We need to make sure we do too, so that future generations will have the pleasure of sharing our planet with these incredible creatures.
Right whale mom and calf rubbing heads © T. Wimmer