Tag Archives: right whales

MAMA AND CALF – A HOPEFUL SIGN FOR RIGHT WHALES

RIGHT WHALE DISCOVERED PREGNANT IN AUGUST, SPOTTED WITH NEW CALF

AMID THE GROWING CONCERN THAT ENDANGERED NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALES COULD BE CREEPING TOWARD EXTINCTION DUE TO THEIR DECLINING NUMBERS, EVERY WINTER CALVING SEASON OFFERS A CHANCE FOR HOPE.

ON JANUARY 2, 2020, HARMONIA, AN 18-YEAR-OLD RIGHT WHALE WHO WAS DISCOVERED TO BE PREGNANT THIS SUMMER BY THE NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM RIGHT WHALE TEAM, WAS SPOTTED OFF CUMBERLAND ISLAND, GA, WITH HER NEWBORN CALF.

An aerial survey team from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission saw the pair just over 7 miles from shore while doing routine surveys of the right whale calving ground. This is optimistic news for the right whale population, which now stands at about 411.

“Every calf gives us hope, and seeing Harmonia, who we’ve watched grow from a calf to a healthy mom, with her third calf is particularly exciting. The future of this species rests on the backs of dependable reproductive females like her,” said Philip Hamilton, a Research Scientist at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium.

Harmonia, right whale Catalog #3101, was sighted with her newborn calf about 7 nautical miles off Cumberland Island, GA, on January 2, 2020. Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, taken under NOAA permit 20556-01

For 40 years, the Aquarium’s right whale team has extensively researched and tracked the endangered North Atlantic right whales with the photo-identification catalog it manages. The scientific team monitors the whales’ arrival at breeding and feeding grounds, registering new calves, death rates, and measuring changes in stress and reproductive hormones through scat and blow, or whale’s breath, research developed by the team. The team collaborates with fishermen on new techniques to reduce deadly entanglements in fishing gear, and it works with lawmakers locally and nationally to lobby for protections for the whales.

On Aug. 7, the team collected a sample of Harmonia’s feces in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where she was sighted with two other whales. An analysis of her hormones indicated that she was pregnant. By Nov. 23, she was spotted off the coast of Florida, the first right whale spotted in the Southeast this winter, exciting researchers with hopes that she had migrated to warmer waters to give birth. She was seen again on Dec. 10 off the coast of Georgia by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium aerial survey team.

Harmonia is well-known and well-studied by the New England Aquarium team. She was born in 2001 to parents, Aphrodite and Velcro, who are both thought to still be alive. Harmonia also has at least six half-brothers and two half-sisters. Harmonia has previously given birth to two calves – one in 2009 and another in 2016. Her first calf barely made it past its first year before being struck by a vessel and killed during the summer of 2010. Harmonia’s second calf, “Gully,” is still alive but was discovered in 2018 suffering another major threat to right whales – entanglement in fishing gear, leaving severe wounds and a deep gouge in its head.

As the right whale team has developed its health assessment techniques using blow and scat samples from free-swimming right whales, Harmonia has been an invaluable test case. The team was able to gather two blow samples and one fecal sample from Harmonia in 2015. Those samples showed elevated levels of reproductive hormones, characteristic of pregnancy, and she subsequently gave birth to Gully 10 months later. That finding was pivotal because it was the first proof that a sample of exhaled blow could effectively detect pregnancy.

Harmony on December 10, 2019. Photo: Clearwater Marine Aquarium, taken under NOAA Permit #20556-01.

Looking back on Harmonia’s history, she was one of a handful of calves from 2001 who stayed with her mom into her second year – unlike most calves who are weaned by the end of their first year. Harmonia also gave birth to her first calf three years earlier than average and was pregnant by the age of 7. She’s had two suction cup tags attached to her – the first at age 2 so researchers could understand how she behaved underwater, and the second to assess how she and her calf vocalized. Her blubber thickness has been measured, and she’s been observed by a special aerial camera designed to provide accurate length and width measurement – all in addition to her involvement in the feces and blow hormone studies.

Harmonia has been seen by the Aquarium right whale team in the Bay of Fundy many times and almost every year up until 2011, but has not been seen there since. Due to ocean changes brought on by climate change, few right whales use the Bay of Fundy now. Harmonia is one of the 130 or so right whales that have adapted and now feed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where she has been seen every year since 2015.

“Harmonia” waves her fluke around in the air. Photo: Monica Zani, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute.

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TWO TERRIFIC WILDLIFE PRESENTATIONS UPCOMING AT SALEM STATE UNIRVERSITY

JENNIFER JACKMAN SHARES THE FOLLOWING:

On Monday, November 5, from 2:30-3:50pm in Veteran’s Hall B, Ellison Campus Center, Salem State University, Dr. Andrea Bogomoloni, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Chair of the Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium will speak on “Seals & Society: Biology, Ecology and Interactions in New England.” Her talk will review the history of seals in New England, examine their roles in the ecosystem and as ocean health sentinels, and discuss seal-fishery interactions.

Harbor Seal Gloucester

On Monday, November 19, from 2:30-3:50pm in Veteran’s Hall B, Ellison Campus Center, Salem State University, there will be a panel on “Wildlife in Peril.” Panelists include Andrea Zeren (Psychology) who will highlight the plight of elephants globally; Jack Clarke (Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, Mass Audubon) who will describe current threats to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act; and Mendy Garron (NOAA) who will discuss the plight of large whale species (particularly right whales). All three speakers also will discuss efforts to protect wildlife.

Snowy Egrets are just one of myriad species of birds that have been saved from the brink of extinction by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act.

These events are sponsored by the Salem State University Human Dimensions of Wildlife Unit at the Bates Center for Public Affairs and the Political Science Department and are open to the public. For more information contact, Jennifer Jackman at jjackman@salemstate.edu.

Right Whales Happening Right Here and Right Now!

Right Whales and Laughing Gulls

Go see the Right Whales! Hundreds are currently off the coast of Provincetown and you can easily view them from the beaches. I had an idea of where best to see the Right Whales after reading several bulletins and articles but very fortunately, we ran into Schooner Adventure Captain Stefan Edick on Provincetown’s main Commercial Street. He had seen them earlier that morning and suggested exactly where to go. After having a quick bite at a favorite lunch spot, Spiritus, we followed Stefan’s advice and headed straight to Herring Cove. There they were, feeding about 1500 feet or so from shore, dozens and dozens. We stayed for awhile and then checked out Race Point Beach. Here they were even a bit nearer the shore, by the Old Harbor Life Saving Station. Perhaps we saw Hundreds, and it was a beautiful sight!! Right Whales feed along the surface of the water, spout lots of snot, and tip their tails when diving. The whales were too far off shore for my camera’s range to get any spectacular shots but it was super fun nonetheless. Also feeding with the whales were Northern Gannets, Laughing Gulls, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Herring Gulls.

These two were swimming together for about half an hour; perhaps they are a mother and calf.

Five at once!

If home this week for school vacation, a day trip to Provincetown to see the Right Whales would make for a wonderful adventure. I don’t think the Center for Coastal Studies is open to visitors at this time of year, but many of the shops are open (including the always interesting Shell Shop). We had dinner at the bar at a very favorite restaurant, Fanizza’s, with lovely views of the beach (there isn’t a bad view from any seat at Fanizza’s). Our fresh seafood dinners were fabulous. Tom had the cod, I had whole belly clams, and they were the perfect end to a perfect day.

A pair of seals swam very close to the beach; they appeared puzzled by so many folks watching the whales and at that, seemed to decide not to come ashore.

Right Whales could still be seen after sundown.

Rare White Whale Calf Found Dead


North Atlantic Right Whale Migratory Route