Florida’s Role in Protecting Endangered Whales
By: Kyle Grammatica
Did you know that Florida is home to migratory whales? One of these whale species is the endangered North Atlantic right whale, which comes to Florida in the winter and spring to give birth to their calves. Volunteers searching for right whales spotted a mother and calf on New Year’s Day off the coast of Volusia County. This same pair of whales may have been found around Georgia by an aerial survey conducted by Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The mother right whale found in Georgia was born in 2005 and is raising its first calf according to the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed that the Georgia pair did move into Florida waters in December but say that they could have moved on by this point. This means that there could be two sets of mother right whales and their calves in Florida right now. This would be great news for the species as North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered whales in the world.
North Atlantic right whales have a special connection to Florida: their only known calving ground is located off the coasts of Florida and Georgia. In 1994 these waters were designated as critical right whale habitat by the National Marine Fisheries Service. This designation gave more protection for right whales while in the area. The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute along with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the New England Aquarium use early warning system aerial surveys to find right whales during calving season. These surveys are conducted to notify mariners of whales in an attempt to reduce whale-boat collisions and fatalities. In addition to the surveys, all ships that weigh more than 300 tons must report their presence when in the protected right whale habitat. After reporting themselves, the ships receive information about any whales known to be in the area and ways to avoid hitting them.
About North Atlantic Right Whales
North Atlantic right whales are a dark gray or black whale that can reach a length of 55 feet and a weight of 110,000 pounds. Calves can reach lengths of 15 feet and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Right whales have no dorsal fins and have bumps called callosities on their heads. They are a baleen whale species that primarily feeds on zooplankton, small crustaceans, and the larva of barnacles. There are around 300 right whales remaining in the western North Atlantic population off the coast of the Eastern United States and Canada. The whales migrate to the coasts of Florida and Georgia from December to March to give birth to their calves. Right whales were hunted to near extinction by whalers before whaling was officially banned in 1935. Right whales got their name because they were called the “right whales” to hunt as they were slow swimming, floated when they died, and yielded large amounts of oil and baleen. Today, human activity is still one of the species biggest threats with ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear causing approximately 30% of right whale fatalities.
How to Help
If you spot a right whale call 1-888-97-WHALE or 1-888-404-FWCC to report the sighting. Reports like these allow agencies to notify mariners of the whale’s presence, reducing the likelihood of collisions. Donate to our Marine Mammal Fund to protect right whales and other marine mammals.