For the first time in more than a year, a North Atlantic right whale calf has been spotted.
The finding is significant, as there are only an estimated 411 members of the endangered species left, and until now there have been no sightings of calves in 2018.
Observers spotted the calf on Friday near the entrance of the St. Johns River by the border of Florida and Georgia.
“We’re excited,” said Tony LaCasse, the spokesperson for the New England Aquarium in Boston. “It’s an optimistic sign. It’s something we can be hopeful for.”
Calving season usually starts in December and lasts until March, with the bulk of the births happening in January and February.
North Atlantic right whales use the warm waters off Florida and Georgia as a nursery for their young so the calves don’t have to burn unnecessary energy trying to stay warm in cold waters. Traditionally, the whales then move up the East Coast to their “summer nursery” in the Bay of Fundy, LaCasse said.
Change in migration pattern
But due to a lack of sufficient quantities of plankton in the Bay of Fundy, in recent years the whales have moved to other areas, including the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
LaCasse said that unexpected migration led to the “calamity” of many whales becoming entangled in fishing gear and killed by vessel strikes.
Canada implemented new measures to try to protect the right whale after 12 were reported dead in Canadian waters in 2017, along with another five in U.S. waters.
LaCasse said the birth of the calf is an encouraging sign, especially given the “drought” of baby whales in the last year, but “we’re a long way from declaring victory on it,” he said.