#34 Worry Turns to Wonderment

As Kelly mentioned in her last blog entry, we lucked out on a recent survey and witnessed a first-time mother, Skittle (she's #3260 if you want to search for her in the Right Whale Catalog) with her newborn calf. Karen did a fantastic job of spotting her from over 3 miles away but when we approached the vicinity, we were initially alarmed by the whale's behavior. She was swimming in tight circles, occasionally head-lifting, frequently diving just below the surface and repeatedly thrashing her peduncle and flukes in and out of the water. Karen examined the photographs and saw no evidence of entanglement or injury, and so we continued to circle in the plane above looking for clues.

More than once, we wondered aloud whether there was a second whale with her but given the white water produced by the whale's behavior, it was a while before we were able to spot the tiny calf right next to her. Skittle kept her calf on the inside of the circle (see photo) and although we witnessed the calf swimming on its own, we also saw the mother diving just below the surface and lifting the calf on her back out of the water! This rarely witnessed behavior, thought to occur only shortly after birth, has only been seen once before in a North Atlantic right whale in 2005 by Jess and Monica who were fortunate enough to observe the full birthing event (see the associated Q&A here). We are happy to report that we video-taped this recent occurrence and hope to share it with you in the near future.

- Suzie


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