#29 Motherhood

From a research perspective, a season on the calving grounds is foremost about mothers and calves. The proximity of the North Atlantic right whale calving grounds to land gives scientists an extremely unique and important opportunity to keep track of the health and viability of a species teetering on the edge of extinction. During our surveys we have the chance to see right whale calves sometimes days after they are born, and with luck we can eventually add the young whales to the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog and keep track of them for decades to come. In order to facilitate the most complete knowledge and tracking of the little individuals born into the critical legacy of a (hopefully) recovering species, the biopsy boats in the EWS area primarily target mother/calf pairs. Once a calf is at least a month old, a skin sample can be collected from it and analyzed for its health and DNA. If every new calf is successfully biopsied this season, we have a genetic fingerprint that, among many other purposes, could allow future researchers to follow each calf's own reproductive successes for generations of right whales to come.

Photo Credit: Kelly Slivka

Last season there were a record number of right whale mother/calf pairs seen on the calving grounds: 39. This may have been around a 10% increase in the entire population! So far this season, however, we have 10 mothers toting new calves around Georgia and Florida waters. Though we expect to have a few more mother/calf pairs identified by the end of the season, this lower number of pairs is not necessarily cause for alarm. Fluctuations such as this are natural in populations both big and small, and researchers have seen ups and downs in the number of new calves many times throughout the past two decades of thorough right whale research. Below is a slide show of the new mothers we have seen in our EWS area already. Above is a photograph of the chart in our field house where we post composite drawings of all the new mothers and keep careful track of whether their calves have been "darted" (biopsied) yet or if a sample is still needed.



Facebook Comments


Post a Comment