JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida wildlife officials say two right whales and their newborn calves were spotted late last week in the waters off the First Coast.
The whale known to researchers as Harmony was spotted Friday with her calf about 11 miles east of the mouth of the river, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Research Institute. Harmony is 19 years old and this would be her fourth calf -- the first in four years.
The mother and calf were spotted in the busy shipping lanes of the Jacksonville Port Authority.
The next day, “Halo” and her calf were spotted just beyond the surf line in Crescent City and was could be seen by people on the beach as they traveled along the shore.
Researchers say Halo is 15 years old and this is her second calf -- her first in six years.
Right whales winter in the coastal waters of Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia and this is where the calves are born. The two seen last week were the fifth and sixth calves born this year, which is encouraging to wildlife researchers who track and try to protect this endangered species.
“Looking at the last few years, and the number of calves being so low, there are more deaths in the right whale population that there are calves, and you’re not going to increase the population this way,” said Nadia Gordon, a marine mammal biologist with the FWC.
According to NOAA, only 400 of these 70-ton mammals remain that face threats of becoming entangled in fishing gear, hit by ships, ocean noise, climate and ecosystem change, small population size and lack of food.
“In the 2008-2009 season there were 39 calves, and we haven’t had high numbers like that since," Gordon said. “Not at all.”
The FWC reminds mariners that this is a critical and vulnerable time for right whale mothers to bond with their calves. Vessels 65 feet or longer must slow to 10 knots or less in designated Seasonal Management Areas, but vessels less than 65 feet are also capable of severely injuring and killing right whales, particularly calves. Whales need a safe amount of space to bond with their calves, 500 yards to be exact.
Please remain alert and cautious while boating through the right whale calving area off coastal Florida and Georgia and report right whale sightings to 1-877-WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5343) or U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Ch. 16.