There’s a whale of a baby boom happening
Fifth North Atlantic right whale calf spotted off Florida’s east coast
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.
This right whale mother and her 2-week-old calf were spotted 10 nautical miles off Fernandina Beach on Jan. 6.