#16: 21 Mother/calf pairs!

The calving season is in full swing in the Southeast U.S.! As of January 12, 21 mother/calf pairs have been documented by aerial survey teams ranging from St. Augustine, Florida to as far north as North Carolina. To put this in perspective, the largest recorded calving season, 31 calves, yielded 18 calves by the end of January 2001. We are already at 21 calves and we aren't even half way through the season! Needless to say the 2009 right whale calving season is turning out to be very exciting one; it seems that each day the survey teams fly more new mothers with calves are being found!

Morse (Eg#1608) logging at the surface while her calf swims close by.
Notice the distinctive V-shaped blow from the calf. Photo Taken by Jessica Taylor.

We are so lucky to witness the first months between a mother and her calf. It's a pretty amazing feat for a mother right whale. She travels down here from Northern Atlantic waters off the New England coast, approximately 1500 miles. She fasts the entire time she is in this area, during which she gives birth to an approximate 12 foot, 2,000 pound calf and then starts nursing the calf, which will gain hundreds of pounds weekly! Amazingly she will nurse the calf for the next year or so. What a huge expenditure of energy; no wonder most of the time we see mother/calf pairs the mother appears to be resting!

This is the only known calving ground for this critically endangered species, so this is an incredibly important habitat for them. We are doing our best to keep their calving ground a safe place. When we find them we alert shipping and military interests of their locations so they can actively avoid the whales. Some mothers and calves stay in one place for days, while others have been known to travel several miles in a single day! Stay tuned for a future blog about mother/calf behavior.

Eg#2145 swims with her calf on December 27, 2008. Photo taken by Zach Swaim.

In addition to each mother looking different, the 21 mothers have a lot of diversity among them. Of the 21 mothers, there are 3 first time moms and 8 moms that have given birth to 5 or more calves, including this year. Just this weekend we documented Eg#1334 with her eighth known calf! The youngest mother so far this season is 8 years old, and many mothers are over 20 years old! Two of the mothers are whales that you can sponsor, Eg#2223 "Calvin" and Eg#2320 "Piper", as part of the North Atlantic Right Whale Sponsorship Program. You can search for individual whales and get their complete sighting history at the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog.

In addition to these already documented mothers, there have been a number of whales seen in the Southeast U.S. that are potential mothers--they are of calving age and have not had a calf in three years- so stay tuned as this exciting season continues!

~ Kara


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