- The right whale calf was seen off of Jacksonville, Florida.
- Last year, no calves were seen off the entire East Coast.
- The population of the critically endangered species is just over 400.
For the first time in nearly two years, a rare right whale calf has been seen off the Florida coast.
The whale was spotted Friday off Jacksonville, Florida, near the mouth of the St. Johns River, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute reported in a Facebook post. It was seen by observers with Coastwise Consulting aboard the dredge Bayport. The calf’s mother had been seen five days earlier off of Georgia.
Julie Albert, coordinator of the right whale sighting hotline for the Marine Resources Council, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that five of the first six whales seen off Florida this season have possibly been pregnant females.
The critically endangered right whales typically migrate from the North Atlantic off of New England and Canada — where they feed and breed — to the coastal waters off Georgia and Florida to give birth.
Last year, no calves were spotted anywhere along the East Coast. Only five calves were counted the previous year.
The species was nearly hunted to extinction. Scientists think just over 400 remain. Of those, fewer than 100 are breeding females, according to NOAA Fisheries.
Twenty right whale deaths were documented in 2017-2018, NOAA Fisheries says. Dangers for the whales include getting entangled in commercial fishing gear or being hit by boats.
Many environmentalists also fear that a federal plan to allow oil and gas companies to begin seismic testing could further harm the species.
In November, the National Marine Fisheries Service awarded “incidental harassment authorizations” to five private companies wanting to look for oil and natural gas deposits on the Atlantic Ocean floor. The authorizations allow the companies to “harass members of numerous marine mammal species.”
Nine attorneys general from Maine to North Carolina have joined a lawsuit aimed at stopping those tests.
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