There’s a whale of a baby boom hap­pen­ing

Fifth North At­lantic right whale calf spot­ted off Florida’s east coast

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - LOCAL - By Roger Sim­mons Or­lando Sen­tinel

There’s a whale baby boom tak­ing place off Cen­tral Florida’s east coast for the “rarest” of the world’s large whales.

On Fri­day, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion re­ported on its Face­book page that dur­ing the cur­rent North At­lantic right whale birthing sea­son, a fifth calf has been spot­ted off Florida — this time near Se­bas­tian In­let State Park with a first-time mother.

“Vol­un­teers with Se­bas­tian In­let State Park sighted a mother-calf pair Fe­bru­ary 5, 2019, just off the beach,” the FWC posted on its Flickr ac­count. “Pho­to­graphs taken by Park Ranger, Ed Perry, con­firm the mother is Cat­a­log #4180. Right whale #4180 is at least eight years old and this is her first known calf. The pair was ob­served rest­ing and nurs­ing at the sur­face.”

So, why do five right whale calves con­sti­tute a baby boom?

Na­tional Ge­o­graphic calls North At­lantic right whales “the rarest of all large whales.” It was es­ti­mated that there were only 440 of the whales in the ocean in 2012, and the marine mam­mals are listed among the most en­dan­gered whales in the world.

“Each Fall, some right whales travel more than 1,000 miles from their feed­ing grounds off the Cana­dian Mar­itimes and New Eng­land to the warm coastal wa­ters of South Carolina, Ge­or­gia, and north­east­ern Florida,” ac­cord­ing to NOAA Fish­eries. “These south­ern wa­ters are the only known calv­ing area for the species — an area where they reg­u­larly give birth and nurse their young.”

Hav­ing spot­ted five calves al­ready this year is big news. Philip Hamil­ton of the An­der­son Cabot Cen­ter for Ocean Life at the New Eng­land Aquar­ium told the As­so­ci­ated Press it’s “a spark of hope” for the species that was once hunted to the brink of ex­tinc­tion.

Last year, there were no new­born right whales spot­ted off Florida dur­ing birthing sea­son, the AP re­ported. In 2017, only five calves were counted.

Right whales can grown up to 52 feet in length — about the size of a school bus — and can weigh up to 70 tons. Their young calves can be about 14 feet at birth and can live to about 70 years.

“Whal­ing is no longer a threat, but hu­man in­ter­ac­tions still present the great­est dan­ger to this species,” NOAA Fish­eries re­ported. “The lead­ing causes of known mor­tal­ity for North At­lantic right whales are en­tan­gle­ment in fish­ing gear and ves­sel strikes.”

North At­lantic right whales are notable for hav­ing a “stocky black body” and lack of a dor­sal fin. “Their tail is broad, deeply notched, and all black with a smooth trail­ing edge,” ac­cord­ing to NOAA Fish­eries. “The stom­ach and chest may be all black or have ir­reg­u­lar-shaped white patches. Pec­toral flip­pers are rel­a­tively short, broad, and pad­dle-shaped.”

The FWC is look­ing for help in doc­u­ment­ing any sight­ings of right whales — and other whales — off Florida’s coast. Those who spot a whale are asked to im­me­di­ately call 877-WHALE-HELP to re­port their find­ings.

You can read more about North At­lantic right whales on the NOAA Fish­eries web­site at https://www.fish­eries.noaa.gov/species/north-at­lanti­cright-whale.

FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE CON­SER­VA­TION COM­MIS­SION

This right whale mother and her 2-week-old calf were spot­ted 10 nau­ti­cal miles off Fer­nan­d­ina Beach on Jan. 6.

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