February 5, 2023

Female smoke and caterpillar off Virginia, November 22 (Clearwater Marine Aquarium, USACE/NOAA permit 20556-01)

That Georgian Ministry of Natural Resources (GDNR) reported in an email statement that there were fewer North Atlantic Right Whale Females of sexual maturity and fewer whales overall.

The GDNR reports that survey flights are underway to document North Atlantic right whales started along the Atlantic coast in November, just as the right whales began their calving season. The species calves off the waters off the coasts of Georgia and northern Florida — their only known remaining calving grounds in the world.

New studies have detailed the dire condition of the large marine mammals. The total population was estimated at just 340 individual whales in 2021, down 10 from 2020. This was followed by a new study showing that the population of reproductive-age females declined from 2014 to 2018. Researchers say there’s only about 72 females has passed reproductive age and that fewer females are going from pre-breeders to mothers.

According to the finding, “right whales cannot pull themselves out of this problem,” said Clay George, a senior wildlife biologist who leads DNR’s marine mammal work. “The whales need a good calving year, but more importantly we need to stop human mortality” caused by the involvement of commercial fishing gear and ship strikes.

The GDNR urges recreational boaters to slow down and be aware of the risks of encountering a right whale. Since 2020, three right whale calves have been killed in collisions with boats less than 20 meters long.

The USA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposes that Speed ​​limit for boats 35 to 64 feet long along the US East Coast at up to 10 knots (11.5 miles per hour). The threshold is now 65 feet. This proposal has raised questions and opposition from boat owners. There is also opposition to new regulations for ropeless tackle for lobster and jonacra crab traps and pot fisheries in the Northeast.

The pleasure craft industry has objected to lowering the speed limit proposal.

Boaters can get a whale app on their phone so they know when they are in waters where whales occur.

When commercial hunting of the whales was banned in the 1930s, there may have been fewer than 100 North Atlantic right whales. The population had recovered by then, but the low number of breeding females coupled with a declining population worries scientists.

George said the number of prebreeding females is consistently around 70.

“If some of these females start having calves, that could really help,” George said. There were also fewer whale deaths this spring and summer. For the first time since 2013, no right whale carcasses were sighted in New England or Canada this past spring or summer.

“A lot is being done to increase protection and awareness in the US and Canada,” George said. “Hopefully we’re starting to see the fruits of that effort.”

The life expectancy of right whales is not known, but it is at least 70 years and could be well over 150 years based on research with bowhead whales. Because the animals are so large and long-lived, it takes many years for a calf to reach breeding age, and if the calf is killed in a boatwreck before breeding, that individual is dead to replace itself.

Right whales are so named because a right whale killed by a whaler does not sink, allowing the whalers to collect the floating carcass. Therefore, it is considered the “right” whale to hunt. More modern whalers pumped compressed air into whale species that had historically sunk, allowing them to capture those species as well, since right whale numbers at the time were far below those supporting whaling. North Atlantic right whale numbers have been declining since 2010. The high mortality from human boating accidents is a major factor in the decline.

Whales were harvested for their oil well into the 20th century, which was used for dozens of industrial purposes but historically was primarily used to light lamps. American industrialist John D Rockefeller probably did more than anyone else to save the rapidly dying whale species around the world when his company, Standard Oil, began to produce and market a much better and more durable lamp oil, kerosene – which he marketed as “standard oil,” the refined from petroleum rather than whale blubber. Whale oil was trading for a staggering $200 a barrel in today’s currency prior to this point, meaning whalers ventured into even the most remote oceans to hunt for the blubber that could be harvested for the oil. Despite this, whale oil was still used for some industrial purposes well into the 20th century.

Scientists also worry that global warming of the oceans could negatively affect species that migrate annually from South Florida around Cape Canaveral to far into the Arctic.

North Atlantic right whales were listed as an endangered species in 1970.

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