It is North Atlantic right whale calving season and the waters off the Georgia coast are essential to the survival and recovery of these critically endangered whales.
A few weeks ago, one of the few remaining North Atlantic right whales was spotted off Cumberland Island, Georgia. (See GA DNR video — Snow Cone and Calf Spotted off Cumberland Island on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=IZkN6zle6-M). Whale mother “Snow Cone” was seen from an aerial survey with a rope entangled in her mouth, possibly caught in her baleen plates, which allow whales to filter vast amounts of zooplankton as they take in ocean water while feeding. Snow Cone is believed to have given birth while entangled in fishing gear. Her new calf is a welcome sight after losing a calf last year to a vessel strike.
Snow Cone is a 17-year-old breeding female who became entangled in fishing gear in Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts. Whale rescue teams in Massachusetts and Canada were able to remove and shorten some of the rope. A Canadian whale rescue team attempted to disentangle the whale but were only able to cut some of the fishing rope into shorter segments. Aerial survey teams will continue to monitor their well-being.
Snow Cone and her calf are not the only North Atlantic right whales swimming off our coast: Georgians enjoy annual visits from these rare whales as they travel south, and many females have calves in our waters. However, these special sightings could one day end because these whales could go extinct in our lifetimes. With only around 330 whales remaining, North Atlantic right whales are slipping closer to extinction every year due to human causes. Collisions with vessels and entanglements in fishing gear are decimating these whales. Even a single human-caused death a year threatens this species’ chances of survival.
While North Atlantic right whale sightings, especially mothers with calves, are exciting, it is also important to remind everyone to give these whales their space. Federal law requires vessels, paddle boarders, aircrafts, and even drones to stay at least 500 yards away from North Atlantic right whales. These restrictions help to reduce the risk of disruptions to or collisions between the whales and boats.
Reducing the amount of fishing gear in the water and requiring vessels to slow down and keep their distance can help save this species. Current measures are simply not enough to protect North Atlantic right whales. We must do more for these rare whales so that we do not see the first large whale species go extinct in the Atlantic Ocean in centuries.
The government has the responsibility to strengthen protections and prevent extinction, but we must demand that the government step up before it is too late for these majestic whales off our coast. Join Oceana by taking action to request that U.S. and Canadian government officials to do more to protect North Atlantic Right Whales.
Tell U.S. and Canadian government officials to protect North Atlantic right whales.
Online: https://act.oceana.org/ page/48248/action/1?locale= en-US
Hermina Glass-Hill Georgia Field Representative Oceana