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Meet the First Right Whale Calves of the Season—But With Just 70 Moms Alive, It’s Far Too Few


Medusa, a mother right whale, estimated to be 42 years old, was scouted with her calf off the coast of St. Catherines Sound, Georgia, on Dec. 7, 2022, by a survey team from Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute. The mother-calf encounter was the first of this 2022-23 calving season.

So far, a baker’s dozen of calves have been identified this season in a joint inter-agency conservation effort. With an estimated fewer than 70 reproductively active female right whales in existence, conservationists say many more births are needed for a rebound.

The number of right whales plummeted around six years ago, largely due to human causes, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported. In what is being called an “unusual mortality event,” their populations dropped by more than 20 percent due to injury or sickness. The primary causes of this are entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with boats and ships, causing females to produce fewer calves each year impacting the species’ recovery.

Medusa and her calf. (Georgia Department of Natural Resources, taken under NOAA permit #20556-01)

The only known areas where right whale mothers regularly give birth and nurse their young are the southwestern United States coastal regions—along the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and northeastern Florida. Every fall, these mothers travel more than 1,000 miles from their feeding areas in the waters off New England and Canada to those shallower, warmer coastal waters. Right whale calving season begins mid-November and runs through mid-April.

Females, which become sexually mature at about age 10, give birth to one calf following a pregnancy that lasts one year. An interval period of about three years between births is considered normal and healthy; now, however, females are calving every 7 to 10 years on average, according to NOAA. This, biologists believe, is due to stress caused by entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with boats and ships, causing some females to calve less often or not at all.

Meet the Mothers and Calves of the 2022-23 Season

NOAA has arranged an “introduction” with several of the mothers and calves, sharing facts and photos of them on its website. Every identified North Atlantic right whale has an assigned four-digit number in the “Right Whale Catalogue.” Some, like Medusa, are also given names based on distinguishing features, or strong connections they have with the community or habitat where they were seen.

Medusa (#1208)

The first sighted was Medusa (#1208) and her calf, her seventh documented, but the very next day a second sighting was made.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Medusa (#1208) and calf. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #20556)

Archipelago (#3370)

On Dec. 8, a survey team from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spotted mom Archipelago (#3370) and her calf off Little St. Simons Island, along Georgia’s coastline also. This mom is at least 20 years old, and this is her third known calf.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Archipelago (#3370) and calf. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA permit 20556)

#1711

Then, on Dec. 17, surveyors from Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI), again, spotted #1711, a 36-year-old female right whale, and her fourth documented calf.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
#1711 and calf. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #20556-01. Funded by United States Army Corps of Engineers)

Porcia (#3293)

Also on Dec. 17, a team from Georgia Department of Natural Resources, alongside CMARI, sighted mom Porcia (#3293), who is 26 years old, with her third known calf southeast of Ossabaw Island, Georgia.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Porcia (#3293) and calf. (Georgia Department of Natural Resources, NOAA permit #21371-04)

Smoke (#2605)

On Boxing Day, Dec. 26, CMARI surveyors caught sight of Smoke (#2605) with her calf about 15 nautical miles east of St. Catherine Island, Georgia. Smoke is 27 years old and this is her fourth known calf.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Smoke (#2605) and calf. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #20556)

War (#1812)

Mom War (#1812) and a calf were sighted on December 29, off of St. Mary River bordering Georgia and Florida. This is the 35-year-old mother’s 7th documented calf.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
War (#1812) and her calf. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #20556)

Aphrodite (#1701)

The same day, Aphrodite (#1701) and her and calf were sighted east of Nassau Sound, Florida. She is 36 years old and this is her 7th documented calf.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Aphrodite (#1701) and her and calf. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #20556)

Pilgrim (#4340)

Right whale mom Pilgrim and calf were sighted December 30, just offshore of Canaveral National Seashore in Florida. She is 10 years old, and this is her first calf. These whales were spotted by beachgoers who called in to the volunteer sighting network hotline and then verified by Marine Resources Council.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Ten-year-old mom Pilgrim and calf. (Photo taken from land by Joel Cohen/Marine Resources Council)

Spindle (#1204)

Most recent of all, Spindle (#1204) and her calf were sighted by CMARI surveyors on January 7, east of St. Catherines Island. The mom is 41 years old and this is her 10th documented calf, as well as one known grandchild.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Spindle and her calf were spotted on Jan. 7, 2023. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #20556)

“Go Slow”: Help Right Whales Make a Comeback

With the current number of females and necessary resting time between births, 20 newborns would be considered a relatively productive year. But in order to stop their decline and allow recovery, approximately 50 or more calves would be needed in a single season, according to NOAA. The only solution, they say, is to “significantly reduce human-caused mortality and injuries as well as stressors on reproduction.” To make that happen, agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, Navy, NOAA, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources are conducting aerial surveys to monitor right whales and are implementing other measures.

They are also alerting mariners and boaters to right whale locations, monitoring calf production, supporting biopsy efforts, and responding to reports of dead, injured, or entangled whales.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Porcia and her calf. (Georgia Department of Natural Resources, NOAA permit #21371-04)

Additionally, they have set up seasonal management areas where vessels 65 feet or longer are required not to exceed 10 knots. This is to reduce the severity of impact of collisions with whales or avoid such collisions. NOAA Fisheries also urges mariners operating vessels 35-65 feet long to keep at or under 10 knots within active seasonal management areas. Boaters should be on the lookout. “Watch for black objects, whitewater, and splashes. Avoid boating in the dark or in rough seas when visibility is poor,” NOAA states on its website.

By federal law, boaters are required to keep a distance of at least 500 yards—five football fields—away from right whales. Boats within that range should immediately depart at a safe, slow speed.

“It is extremely important for all mariners and boaters to slow down, stay alert, and give these whales plenty of room,” NOAA added.

To report a right whale sighting or dead, injured, or entangled whales from North Carolina to Florida, boaters should do so from a safe distance. They may contact NOAA Fisheries at 877-WHALE-HELP (942-5343) or the Coast Guard on marine VHF channel 16.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Smoke and her calf. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #20556)
Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
#1711 and her calf. (Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #20556-01. Funded by United States Army Corps of Engineers)
Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Porcia and calf. (Georgia Department of Natural Resources, NOAA permit #21371-04)
Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Porcia and calf. (Georgia Department of Natural Resources, NOAA permit #21371-04)

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Epoch Inspired Staff

Epoch Inspired staff cover stories of hope that celebrate kindness, traditions, and triumph of the human spirit, offering valuable insights into life, culture, family and community, and nature.



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