#36 Skittle's Calf

Kelly and Suzie both recently blogged about Skittle's (#3260) newborn calf and our incredible opportunity to see rarely seen behaviors thought only to occur shortly after birthing takes place. Read more details about this day here and here. A few days after we first sighted Skittle with her new calf, Kelly and I spotted a Surface Active Group (SAG) of approximately 8 animals. It appears that Skittle was the focal female of this SAG - and to our dismay, she was sighted without her calf! In the photo below, you can see Skittle belly up in the center of the SAG.

At this time, we are uncertain whether the calf is still alive but since the small calf was not seen by the observers in the plane, the individuals in the biopsy boat (who biopsy darted one of the individuals (#3190) in the SAG that day), or our ground contact who reviewed the more than 100 photos of the SAG, we believe that it did not survive. This means that Skittle's calf must have died sometime between our first sighting of the calf on February 24th and the day we obseved the SAG on March 1st. Despite the sadness of this event, the data we were able to collect concerning Skittle, her calf, and the remarkable post-birth behaviors is valuable information that will give scientists a better understanding of the biology and ecology of right whales.

Photo Credit: New England Aquarium; Karen Vale




  1. So sorry to hear that... is it at all possible the calf is elsewhere?

  2. It is certainly possible, albeit unlikely, that the calf was nearby the day we observed the SAG. It’s improbable that a calf of such a young age could survive long without its mom and without nursing. Most calves will nurse for approximately 9 to 12 months and stay with their moms for about one year. Calvin was the youngest weaned calf ever to be documented. Calvin was approximately at 6 months of age when she was forced to wean when her mom was killed by a ship.

    We are keeping a sharp lookout for Skittle and/or the calf on our surveys and will update our blog followers if we get any new information. Documenting Skittle again is important because we will be able to confirm that the calf is gone.