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Right Whale Calves Sighted With Mothers Off Georgia and Florida Coasts

Dec 15, 2015 03:34 PM EST
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Two North Atlantic right whale calves were recently born--of these, a mother/baby pair was sighted off the Georgia coast; another pair was seen off Florida, according to an article by Mary Landers in the Savannah Morning News

They were the first right whale sightings in the current calving season for this endangered species, whose members can live to be more than 50 years old.

The Georgia coast whale, called Harmony, was seen with her calf about 10 miles east of Jekyll Island last week, said a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission crew doing aerial surveys. They also saw the other mother and calf near St. Augustine, Florida, not far off Ponte Vedra, on the same day, noted the SMN article.

This species of whales gets its name because it tends to hug shores -- and is therefore easy to find -- and also floats when it is dead. Both factors made it attractive to whalers and therefore the "right" whale to hunt. Both the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act protect this whale.

There are possibly only about 465 North Atlantic right whales on Earth, which makes them number among the rarest marine mammals worldwide. Their routine is to travel 1,000 miles or more from feeding grounds near Canada and New England to South Carolina, Georgia and Florida's Atlantic coast.

In the warm southern waters, right whales give birth and nurse their calves. Mother whales are roughly school-bus size and the young are nearer to the size of cars, as the SMN article said. Seventeen new calves were documented last season by scientists.

Throughout calving season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and partners that include the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Florida FWC administer aerial and vessel surveys along the coast, Dec. 1 through March. Individuals can also report sightings here. 

Right whales have identifying marks of raised rough skin on their heads--these are called callosities. The resulting pattern is a bit like fingerprints. New England Aquarium keeps a catalog of sightings and other information here

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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