#35 The Flexibility to Save a Species

I'm not sure if we've yet communicated this in the blog, but North Atlantic right whales on the calving grounds this season have been distributed in an atypical fashion. Usually the Central EWS area--the area the Aquarium team surveys--has the highest density of right whales during the season. In fact, the density of right whales in our EWS area at least doubles the density in the northern and southern EWS areas. However, this year the highest density of whales seems to be farther south, not just down in the southern EWS area, but even farther than that. Whales have frequently been sighted off of and south of Cape Canaveral. I'm not sure why the whales appear to be distributed farther south than normal this year (it could be water temperature due to cold weather and/or a change in the boundaries of the Gulf Stream), but I am glad the management plans that are in place to help protect right whales on the calving grounds have the flexibility to adapt to the unpredictability of these wild animals. This flexibility continues to keep right whales safe, no matter where they are.

In the map below, the unshaded area is the EWS area (North, Central, and South combined) which typically houses the densest distribution of right whales on the calving grounds. The shaded area shows where many sightings have taken place this year, much farther south than usual.

View Northern Florida in a larger map

Below is a figure that shows where new "Dynamic Management Areas" (DMAs) have been placed outside of the usual "Seasonal Management Areas" (SMAs). SMAs are in place between specific dates off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida during which right whales can be found in these waters. Within the management area and between the specific dates, vessels are told to exercise caution and maintain low speeds in order to minimize the risk of colliding with a right whale. But the placement of voluntary DMAs ensures that the whales are protected by SMA measures even if they are found outside of the SMA areas.

Dynamic Management Area (DMA) map provided by NOAA/NMFS

Definitely check out this diagram constructed by NOAA/NMFS that integrates all the right whale sightings throughout this season with a map of coastal sea surface temperatures.

Learn more about NOAA's efforts to protect right whales in the Southeast here and here.



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