According to reports, critically endangered North Atlantic right whales gave birth to the largest number of calves in six years, offering hope to the right whale species, whose populations have been driven to the brink of extinction because of entanglements with fishing gear and collisions with ships.
What is Happening?
- According to The Associated Press, aerie survey teams along the US East Coast spotted 17 right whale calves swimming with their mothers offshore between Florida and North Carolina from December through March.
- This equals the total number of right whale calves born in the three previous years combined and is the highest number of births since 2015. In recent decades, North American right whale populations have dropped to an estimated 360 individuals; three years ago, the population produced no calves at all.
- Scientists believe that one reason for the increase in births may be that right whale populations have moved to waters with healthier populations of zooplankton, after experiencing food shortages in feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy.
Clay George, a wildlife biologist who oversees right whale surveys for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, says, “What we’re seeing is what we hope will be the beginning of an upward climb in calving that’s going to continue for the next five years. They need to be producing about two dozen calves per year for the population to stabilise and continue to grow again.”
- Since 2017, at least 34-49 right whales have been killed in ship collisions and entanglement with fishing gear.
Philip Hamilton, a right whale researcher at the New England Aquarium told the AP, “If we reduced or eliminated the human-caused death rate, their birth rate would be fine. The onus should not be on them to reproduce at a rate that can sustain the rate at which we kill them. The onus should be on us to stop killing.”
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