The marine biologists in South Carolina say that the critically endangered right whales are slowly returning to the Southeast.
The experts spotted the first specimen on November 16th off Sapelo Island. Then, on December 1st, the officials started the aerial survey as part of the annual effort of counting the female right whales which come there with their calves.
The crews will continue scanning a wide area until March. In 2015, the specialists recorded sixteen calves, a number which was below their expectations. However, they hope that this season will be much more productive and that right whales will grow in numbers.
It is worth mentioning that there are roughly 450 specimens left worldwide. According to Clay George, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, although there were fewer calves last year, it means that more females might give birth this year.
In other words, right whales cannot have calves every year because the gestation is twelve-month long. Plus, the mothers have to take care of their calves for another year. Also, they need as much as two years of feeding to get ready for another gestation.
George further added that 31 calves were born sixteen years ago, and they could be mature enough to have their own calves. These large mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The North Atlantic right whale is regarded as the Georgia state marine mammal. In the past, these animals were known as the urban whales because they used to get close to the coast. Unfortunately, they were massively hunted in the nineteenth century and almost became extinct.
During the winter, these massive marine mammals travel over one thousand miles from New England and Canada (their feeding grounds) to the coastal waters of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Here, the females give birth and spend several months nursing their calves. The wildlife officials and marine biologists stress that boaters must be aware of the fact that they might come across right whales.
If they are careless, they might collide with a whale and kill it. According to Tom Pitchford, an FWS biologist, there is a common misconception among people because they think that right whales are huge, so they are easy to spot.
However, Pitchford explains that these animals have a dark color, and usually swim below the surface of the water. Plus, they don’t have a dorsal fin, which makes them even harder to see.
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