How definitive is the study? Cole says that while it's a strong indicator, there could well be other mating areas, and its not clear how fixed the areas might be. In fact, since the study ended, fewer right whales have been observed in the area during what would be the mating period. The study also found a similar, if less dramatic, indication that Roseway Basin - an area south of Nova Scotia - may also serve as a mating ground.
"We are still seeing right whales in the central Gulf of Maine, just not in the same numbers. They are still out there, but where they all are in the big question. The decline is significant, so something appears to have changed," Cole said. "The good news is that calf production has been fairly good, with 22 calves born in 2011, 7 in 2012, and 20 this past winter. It will be interesting to see how many calves are born next year."
Most of the North Atlantic right whale population spends the spring and summer on feeding grounds off the northeastern U.S. and the Canadian Maritimes. In late fall and early winter, pregnant females migrate to waters off the southeastern U.S. to give birth. Mothers and calves are detected during intensive aerial surveys conducted from December through March off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Mothers and calves return to the northeast feeding grounds in the early spring, and the calves stay with their mothers for a year following birth.
Recovery of this endangered species depends on successful reproduction, but current reproductive rates for North Atlantic right whales are much lower than those for the recovering populations of southern right whales. The reasons for this are unknown, but may include a low level of genetic variability and /or inbreeding, disease, biotoxins, pollutants, food supply limitations, and habitat loss. Increased ocean noise from coastal deve
|Contact: Shelley Dawicki|
NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center