Endangered right whale experiencing mini-baby boom off New England

The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is experiencing a mini-baby boom in New England waters, researchers on Cape Cod have said.

The right whale is one of the rarest species of whale on the planet, numbering only about 411.

But the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., said Friday its aerial survey team spotted two mom-and-calf pairs in Cape Cod Bay a day earlier. That brings the number seen in New England waters alone this year to three.

That’s big news because the whale’s population has been falling, and no calves were seen last year. In all, seven right whale calves have been seen so far this year.

In 2017, 18 North Atlantic right whales were confirmed dead after some got tangled in fishing gear and others were struck by ships. Twelve of the whales were found in Canadian waters.

In this March 28, 2018 photo, a North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. After years of increasingly bad news, there’s a glimmer of hope for the beleaguered North Atlantic right whale. (Michael Dwyer/CP/AP)

As a result, the Canadian government introduced restrictions for the 2018 season. They included an earlier start and end to the snow crab fishing season in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, fixed and temporary closures where whales are spotted, and an earlier speed restriction for ships in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence.

No whales were reported to have been found dead in Canadian waters in 2018.

Earlier this year, the federal government announced it would ease some of the restrictions brought in this year. 

The whales give birth off Georgia and Florida in the winter and travel to feeding grounds off New England in the early spring, including the Gulf of Maine, which touches Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Canada.

Animals feed close to shore

Cape Cod Bay is part of the Gulf of Maine and is a critically important feeding ground. The animals often feed close to shore, providing watchers on land “unbeatable views of one of the rarest of marine mammals,” the Center for Coastal Studies said in a statement.

Those who come within 100 metres of whales in Canada could face hefty fines. In 2018, the Canadian government said those who break the rules under the Fisheries Act could fact penalties of $100,000 to $500,000. Repeat offences could result in an even higher fine amount or even imprisonment, according to DFO.

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