It was not the North Atlantic right whale calving season anyone wanted.
When winter survey flights ended last month, 11 adult right whales and zero calves had been seen in the Southeast. This is the first winter since surveys began in the 1980s that no calf has been documented off Georgia and Florida, the imperiled whales’ sole known calving grounds. Last winter’s calf count was five.
Adding insult to injury, 17 dead right whales were documented along the Atlantic Seaboard in 2017.
There only about 450 North Atlantic right whales left. Fewer than 100 of them are breeding females.
Researchers think the low calving numbers in recent years are linked to poor foraging conditions in New England and Canada caused by rising sea temperatures and current changes in the northwest Atlantic.
Entanglements in commercial fishing gear also continue to plague this species.
Concern fed by the downward spiral sparked media coverage (see “Headlines” below) and even some changes for shipping and commercial fishing in northeastern U.S. and Canadian waters aimed at better protecting right whales.