Quantcast

Scientists Haven't Seen a Single North Atlantic Right Whale Calf This Season

Animals
A little whale and its mother, photographed in Feb. 2008, are two of only a few hundred North Atlantic right whales on Earth. GA DNR

The North Atlantic right whale is already one of the most endangered whales, with fewer than 450 of the iconic marine mammals left on the planet.

But the situation appears to be getting worse: Researchers tracking the whales' usual calving grounds off Georgia and northern Florida have not seen a single calf yet this breeding season, which started in December and peaks in January and February.


To compare, an average of 17 calves a year were born from 1990 to 2014. Only five were born in 2017. It would be "unprecedented" if no calves are born are this year, as Charles "Stormy" Mayo, director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass, told the New York Times.

He noted that it's possible that the whales moved somewhere else to give birth, or calves might be found later in the season, which lasts through the end of March.

"I will not be surprised, though I will be excited, if we see a calf or two in Cape Cod Bay," said Dr. Mayo, whose research team tracks the animals in the bay.

The species has been struggling since the 1970s when they were first declared endangered. Last year, 17 of them died, or about 4 percent of its total population.

Entanglements from lobster trap lines and other commercial fishing gear have been responsible for 85 percent of all North Atlantic right whale deaths since 2010. Climate change also makes matters worse. Experts say that if the current trend continues, the North Atlantic right whale could go extinct by 2040.

And there's another looming threat. In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at expanding offshore oil drilling and exploration. Seismic airgun blasting, which is used to find oil and gas beneath the ocean floor, has been proposed within the same main range of North Atlantic right whales.

Scientists warn that seismic airgun blasting is so incredibly loud and powerful that it could adversely affect the whales and other marine life. The government's own 2014 environmental review estimates that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of millions more.

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), who is leading a bipartisan group of New England Senators in introducing legislation to bar offshore drilling along the New England coast, was alarmed by the daunting status of right whale.

"The endangered right whale is heading towards extinction," he tweeted. "The only thing that would be more harmful for their chances of survival than @realDonaldTrump's offshore drilling plan would be actually hunting them for their oil. #ProtectOurCoast"

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A verdant and productive urban garden in Havana. Susanne Bollinger / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

Read More Show Less
Trevor Noah appears on set during a taping of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" in New York on Nov. 26, 2018. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah / YouTube screenshot

By Lakshmi Magon

This year, three studies showed that humor is useful for engaging the public about climate change. The studies, published in The Journal of Science Communication, Comedy Studies and Science Communication, added to the growing wave of scientists, entertainers and politicians who agree.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
rhodesj / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cities around the country are considering following the lead of Berkeley, California, which became the first city to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new homes this summer.

Read More Show Less
Rebecca Burgess came up with the idea of a fibersheds project to develop an eco-friendly, locally sourced wardrobe. Nicolás Boullosa / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

If I were to open my refrigerator, the origins of most of the food wouldn't be too much of a mystery — the milk, cheese and produce all come from relatively nearby farms. I can tell from the labels on other packaged goods if they're fair trade, non-GMO or organic.

Read More Show Less
A television crew reports on Hurricane Dorian while waves crash against the Banana River sea wall. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) met with Bill Gates on Nov. 7 to discuss climate change and ways to address the challenge. Senator Chris Coons

The U.S. Senate's bipartisan climate caucus started with just two members, a Republican from Indiana and a Democrat from Delaware. Now it's up to eight members after two Democrats, one Independent and three more Republicans joined the caucus last week, as The Hill reported.

Read More Show Less
EPA scientists survey aquatic life in Newport, Oregon. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to significantly limit the use of science in agency rulemaking around public health, the The New York Times reports.

Read More Show Less
A timelapse video shows synthetic material and baby fish collected from a plankton sample from a surface slick taken off Hawaii's coast. Honolulu Star-Advertiser / YouTube screenshot

A team of researchers led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn't intend to study plastic pollution when they towed a tiny mesh net through the waters off Hawaii's West Coast. Instead, they wanted to learn more about the habits of larval fish.

Read More Show Less