For years, there has a been an annual surveys of North Atlantic right whale reproduction to track birthing rates for the right whale. As the 2018 season is about to conclude, researchers have announced some very bad news, there has not been a single newborn calf this year.
The lack of births this season is very troubling and puts the critically endangered whale’s future in jeopardy.
Right whale biologists survey the whales by performing fly overs of the Atlantic waters off the coasts of Georgia and Florida during the December-to-March calving season each year in order to quantify how the species is growing. Over the last three decades, a average of 17 calves per year have been observed. Starting in 2012, that already low number has started to decline annually leading into this year, where there have been no reported calves.
If no calve is spotted in the next few weeks, it would be the first season on record that a North Atlantic right whale calf was not born.
“It’s a pivotal moment for right whales,” Barb Zoodsma, leader of the southeastern division of the US National Marine Fisheries Service’s right whale recovery program, told the AP. “If we don’t get serious and figure this out, it very well could be the beginning of the end.”
An estimated 300 to 450 North Atlantic right whales now remain in the wild. The populations were decimated by whalers seeking baleen and oil between the 17th and 20th centuries. Today, the whales are at risk of death from ship collisions and entanglement in ghost gear.
In recent years, deaths of the right whale have increased. In 2017, a total of 17 whale carcasses were found on beaches along the US and Canadian coast lines, which were more deaths than the previous five years combined.
— The Virginian-Pilot (@virginianpilot) January 30, 2018
Female right whales only give birth to one calf every three-to-five years so researchers are holding out hope this year just happens to be an off year for reproduction.
Even if there is a boom in births the next two years, the species will remain in trouble until the causes of adult right whale deaths are addressed.
In response to recent deaths, scientists and activists at the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Humane Society have come together to sue the Trump Administrations Department of Commerce, a branch of the government that includes NOAA.
The lawsuit argues that NOAA has failed to properly protect right whales from the commercial fishing industry that it oversees and regulates.