Two critically endangered right whales were recently spotted with newborn calves off the Florida coast, according to a post made on January 1, 2024, by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Research Institute (FWC).
FWC aerial survey teams spotted 'Legato', cataloged under #1802, with a newborn calf on December 31, 2023, off Nassau Sound. At 36 years old, the FWC reports that the newborn is Legato's fifth calf and that she last gave birth 13 years ago during the 2011 calving season.
But Legato wasn't the only one to become a mama going into the New Year. FWC Survey teams also spotted Catalog #3780 with her first calf just offshore of Anna Marie Island on December 31 as well. At the time of spotting, the newborn was reported to be less than three days old.
Though Catalog #3780 is unnamed and her exact age unknown, she has been fairly well-documented over the past 17 years. According to the New England Aquarium, she's most commonly spotted in New England waters, but has been known to frequent the blues of the southeastern US, as well as the Bay of Fundy in Canada.
Listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1970, only approximately 360 individual right whales remain, and the population has continued to decline at an unsustainable rate — largely due to human impacts. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), fewer than 70 of those are reproductively active females.
While the NOAA reports that calves born in recent years have been below average, these recent right whale births offers a glimmer of hope into the conservation of the critically endangered species.
Recognizable by their stocky black bodies with no dorsal fins, 'V'-shaped blow spouts, and deeply-notched tails with a smooth edge, right whale spottings are commonly reported in the northern and central Florida regions. The FWC reports that many sightings of right whales have been recorded off St. Johns, Flagler, Volusia, and Brevard counties.
Because of this, volunteer-based organizations in these areas work to inform the public about right whales, their calving habitat, do's and don'ts for viewing them, and the unique connection local communities share with these critically endangered large whales.
The FWC says these volunteer networks teach citizens how to spot whales from shore and encourage the public to report whale sightings in real-time, further helping them to become part of a vast network of collaborative right whale research that spans from Canada to Florida.
Those looking for Right Whale volunteer opportunities or who would like to learn more about the volunteer sighting networks are encouraged to visit the Blue World Research Institute's Right Whale Sighting Network, and the Marineland Right Whale Project Blog.
Public Right Whale sightings in Florida can be reported to the volunteer sighting network by phone at 888-979-4253 or through the NOAA hotline at 877-WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343. You can also view other verified right whale sightings using WhaleMap here.
Article by Rachael Volpe