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Right whales head north
Rise seen in winter survey totals
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BRUNSWICK — After spending the winter in the warm waters off Georgia and Florida, North Atlantic right whales are heading north for the summer.
Research survey results indicate that the number of individual right whales spending the winter in the South increased this year.
The last of the right whales were seen heading north at the beginning of April, signaling the end of the calving season. Right whales spend the summer in the cooler waters off Cape Cod Bay and Canada, returning to Georgia and Florida in the winter. Research done by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from December through March is helping wildlife biologists determine the status of these endangered animals.
Approximately 150 whales were sighted off the Georgia coast during the season, up from 87 in 2007. The total includes 19 sets of mother and calf pairs, as well as juveniles and single animals. Whales are counted using aerial surveys and on-the-water monitoring.
Since 2005, at least one adult mortality has been documented each year. This year, however, none were reported. There were two reported cases of calf mortalities, both from unknown causes.
Classified as endangered in 1931, the whales are listed as a priority species in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, the blueprint for conservation in Georgia.
Although not hunted now, right whales face conservation problems including ship strikes, entanglement in commercial fishing gear and habitat destruction. Even after nearly 50 years of protected status, there are only an estimated 300 to 400 North Atlantic right whales left.
How can you help?
If boating off Georgia’s coast from December to April, follow the Guidelines for Navigating in Right Whale Waters, available on the DNR Coastal Resources Division’s Web page, Report right whale sightings by calling (800) 272-8363.
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