Two right whale calves and their mothers were spotted last week off the coast of Northeast Florida.
So far, there have been seven calves sighted this right whale season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Southeast.
“We’re going in the right direction. What we would really like to see is a number like 20 or 25. That would be the kind of calf production that would help grow the population,” said Jim Hain, principal investigator for the Marineland Right Whale Project.
On Friday, a right whale known as Minus One and her new calf were sighted off South Ponte Vedra Beach.
NOAA said Minus One is at least 27 years old and this is her third calf.
A right whale known as ‘Minus One’ is a mom again! She and her new calf were sighted just offshore of South Ponte Vedra Beach, FL Friday. Minus One is at least 27-years-old and this is her 3rd calf. This makes #6 for the season!— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAAFish_SERO) January 11, 2021
Photo Credit: @MyFWC (photographed from land) pic.twitter.com/qeQ2uATPOd
Then another calf was spotted the next day. A right whale named Binary and her calf were sighted Saturday off Amelia Island.
NOAA said Binary is at least 21 years old and this is the mother’s third calf.
Lucky Number 7! A right whale named ‘Binary’ and her calf were sighted off Amelia Island, FL Saturday. Binary is at least 21-years-old and this is her third documented calf. This makes 7 calves for the right whale season!— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAAFish_SERO) January 11, 2021
Photo credit: @CMAquarium under NOAA permit #20556-01 pic.twitter.com/DtxuHnTTai
Another calf was also spotted last week with its mother. A 39-year-old right whale named Magic was seen with a calf off Little Cumberland Island in Southeast Georgia. NOAA said that’s Magic’s seventh known calf.
Starting off the new year Right! New mom, a right whale nicknamed "Magic," was seen with a calf off Little Cumberland Island, GA earlier this week! Magic is 39-years-old and this is her 7th known calf. Photo: @MyFWC, taken under NOAA permit 20556-01 pic.twitter.com/bG7hAb75dL— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAAFish_SERO) January 7, 2021
Last month, a calf was spotted near Cumberland Island with its 13-year-old mother named Chiminea, a calf was spotted off Vilano Beach with its 16-year-old mother known as Millipede and 27-year-old Nauset and her fourth documented calf were spotted off Sapelo Island, Georgia.
According to NOAA, the North Atlantic right whale calving season begins in mid-November and runs through mid-April.
Right whales are an endangered species that usually migrate south along the Georgia and Florida coastline to give birth to their calves. Every fall, right whales can travel up to 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds up north to the shallow calving waters down south. They stay there through the winter months to give birth.
In the 2020 calving season, there were 10 calves born, which was up from seven in the 2019 season. Despite the increase in calves, the species is still endangered. Right whales have been listed under the endangered species list since 1970.
The Marineland Right Whale Project, which is in its 21st year doing research on these gentle giants, has nearly 200 volunteers a year to help spot the whales, and drones are a huge help when it comes to identifying the mothers and the calves.
“We’re trying to learn enough about right whales so that we can make recommendations and suggestions and sometimes laws to change human behavior that will protect the whales,” Hain said. “If you’re going to make changes to the fishing industry, or if you’ve got to make changes to the shipping industry, there’s an economic impact, so your argument has to be absolutely compelling.”
These whales like to swim close to shore and tend to stay by the surface, making them susceptible to being struck by vessels and caught up in fishing nets. To try and help avoid vessel strikes, there are speed restricted zones to slow down and keep an eye for the whales. These zones can be seasonally monitored when the whales migrate.
“There’s probably natural mortality and natural impacts that we don’t know about and we can’t control, but the thing that we can control is whales getting killed by ships and whales dying because they’re getting tangled up in fishing gear,” Hain said. “Those are the things that we can control.”
If you’re along the coast and see a right whale and it’s a calf, it’s very important to give them space -- 500 yards to be exact. You can also call the hotline and report the sighting to 1-877-WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5343) or U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.