As the right whale season draws to a close, things have quieted down a little bit in the waters off of Jacksonville where we fly our Central EWS surveys. It's regrettable to see the whales begin to leave, but it's the way it should be: we wouldn't want a lot of whales hanging around when there's no one here anymore to locate them for vessel traffic.
Interestingly, the sparse sightings we have been seeing over the past few days have been largely mother-calf pairs. In fact, for the past five days we have seen different mother-calf pairs each day! It's as if the mothers are marching through our survey area on their way back north-- like moms on parade. I think the whole team has enjoyed seeing all the mothers we've been watching throughout the season, as they're such a crucial indicator of the health of this population. We have been able to watch the calves grow from tiny gray squirts into strapping, strong youngsters who look plenty fit enough to survive the migration north and their first summer on the feeding grounds.
However, we still don't have a final count on just how many new North Atlantic right whales have taken their place in the population this season. In the past couple days we have had two brand new mothers, bringing the current count up to 18. This great number gives good riddance to any worries about the productivity of the calving season we might have been harboring at the beginning of the year, when new moms appeared few and far between.
The calves of #2642 (left) and #3123 (right) have grown very large, and even have clear budding callosity patterns.
When I return north and visit the waters of Cape Cod Bay in two weeks, I'll be very excited to see if any new mothers show up that we didn't happen to see here on the calving grounds. But more thrilling will be to rendevous with the mothers and calves I saw in the southeastern U.S. once they reach the other end of their journey. I hope I find them healthy and thriving!
Photos credited to: New England Aquarium; Suzie Hanlan.