The year 2017 was a devastating one for North Atlantic right whales. There are just over 400 of the critically endangered whales left, and there were 17 confirmed deaths. In every case in which the dead whale could be examined, the cause of death was found to be either entanglement in fishing gear or being hit by a ship.
Then came 2018 - only three deaths - but not a single calf. And an endangered population can’t hold out – let alone rebuild – without new babies.
This year has started on a more positive note, with two calves already seen.
"I don't want to be gluttonous, but we hope to see a lot more," said Stormy Mayo, senior scientist and director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies.
Another piece of good news: there are currently a hundred whales gathered off the coast of New England, and they have been observed in "surface social groups," behavior that includes breeding.
"What we're hearing from that area...far south of Nantucket is that there is a lot more interaction between individuals," Mayo told Living Lab Radio. "I think we can assume that somewhere deep in the water they've also found good feeding. That's why we usually see these aggregations as we often do in Cape Cod Bay later in the season."
Mayo said he finds the news encouraging so far this year.
"Let's hope we're on an upward trajectory, because we've been on a downward one for quite awhile," he said.
Web content by Liz Lerner and Elsa Partan.