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Early Sightings of Three Right Whale Calves Offer Hope for Critically Endangered Species

Another North Atlantic right whale calf has been spotted off the coast of South Carolina — the fourth one born this season, according to scientists from the New England Aquarium. 


Sadly, the first calf of the season was found dead shortly after birth, a tragedy for the critically endangered species with population numbers hovering below 360.


Still, New England Aquarium scientist Philip Hamilton said he’s optimistic, especially because two females this year are first-time moms. 


“That's really encouraging,” he said. “There have been quite a few females that have reached the age where they should be able to give birth, but they haven't given birth to their first calf.”


So far, he said, the three remaining calves born to mothers known as Millipede, Chiminea, and 39-42, look healthy and seem to be putting on weight. 


Although scientists estimate there are about 85 breeding-age females left among the North Atlantic right whale population, in 2019 only 10 calves were born.


“We haven't had a lot of calves born in the last few years and we've had a lot of mortality,” Hamilton said. “But …  the fact that we have three live calves already by the middle of December is definitely very hopeful.”


Mid-January is generally when half of the annual population of calves has been detected, Hamilton said, and by April, the mothers and calves should be arriving in Cape Cod Bay.  


“The beginning of every calving season is a time for optimism,” he said.  “I couldn't still be studying right whales and not have some source of hope because it's a dark story. But I’m hopeful that we'll have a good calving season this year.” 



Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.