FERNANDINA BEACH, FL (January 17, 2020) — You could definitely say it’s been a “whale of an effort” to try to save a rare baby right whale. A team of experts from around the USA have been on Amelia Island at the Florida-Georgia border in recent days. They had a challenging mission. To re-locate and try to administer antibiotics to an injured North Atlantic right whale newborn calf that had previously been spotted in coastal waters (pictured above with its mother).
Sadly, a sighting of the pair — mom and baby — previously on January 8, 2020, had been disheartening. Observations indicated the newborn right whale calf (one of only four born so far during this winter’s birthing season 2019/2020), had already suffered a propeller injury from an apparent vessel strike. Biologists estimated the newborn was “just days old and the wounds were perhaps hours old,” according to news released by NOAA Fisheries.
Shown above, team members prepared to launch a hexacopter to take aerial images of the mother/calf pair (photo January 16, 2020).
North Atlantic right whales are a critically-endangered species. It’s a dire situation, considering the dwindling population.
“Fewer than 100 breeding females are left. Only 12 births have been observed in the three calving seasons since 2017, less than one-third the previous average annual birth rate for right whales. This, together with an unprecedented 30 mortalities since 2017 (part of a declared Unusual Mortality Event), accelerates the downward trend that began around 2010, with deaths outpacing births in this population. “SOURCE: NOAA FISHERIES
Located Off Fernandina Beach, FL
A coordinated aerial surveillance and maritime effort successfully relocated the baby whale on January 15, 2020. According to FWC Fish & Wildlife Research Institute, “A team relocated Catalog #2360 ‘Derecha’ and her injured right whale calf off Fernandina Beach, Florida.” The team of experts is pictured above at Fernandina’s Dee Dee Bartels north end boat ramp on Amelia Island.
NOAA Fisheries Facebook page gave “a special shout-out to the Amelia Island Right Whale Action Group that served up fresh chocolate chip cookies to the on-water teams when they returned to shore! “
Pictured above : Jamison Smith (BWRI), Kathryn Rose (IFAW), Trip Kolkmeyer (GDNR), Barb Zoodsma (NOAA), Katie Jackson (FWC), Hendrik Nollens (Sea World), Tom Pitchford (FWC), Clay George (GDNR), Lisa Conger (NOAA). Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries, Facebook.
Antibiotics Given To Injured Baby Whale
The FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute indicated that the on-site veterinarian had enough information to determine that antibiotics would benefit this whale calf. A syringe was fired from an air gun. Biologists will be monitoring the calf in future days during routine aerial surveys, but “the calf’s prognosis remains poor.”
This huge effort was made possible by coordination of many experts from partner agencies all over the United States. In addition to the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute were the Wildlife Resources Division – Georgia DNR, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, SeaWorld, Blue World Research Institute, IFAW, the United States Navy (plus external consultants from across the country that provided technical assessment of the injuries).
While the outcome remains to be seen, it’s safe to say all involved and the local community are hoping for the best. It’s been an extraordinary attempt to save this newborn whale, one of a species struggling for survival.
Right Whale Video
Watch this educational video by NOAA Fisheries to learn more about North Atlantic right whales.
First Spotted Jan. 8, 2020
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Researchers spotted the 4th right whale calf of the 2019-2020 season about 8 nautical miles off off Altamaha Sound, GA on January 8, 2020, but the young whale was already injured.” The newborn is the calf of right whale #2360 (mother’s name is “Derecha”).
Be On Alert For Whales!
NOAA urges mariners to be on alert for this rare species of whale visiting in coastal waters off Georgia and northeast Florida during winter birthing season. Law requires boaters to stay away at least 500 yards. According to NOAA, “mom/calf pairs spend the majority of their time at, or a few feet below, the water’s surface in southeastern U.S. waters.” Please be careful, slow down boat speed, and be on the lookout. Note that staying a distance away also applies to the air. With the popularity of drones, keep all drones away 500 yards from whales, as well. The North Atlantic right whale winter season here around the Florida-Georgia border is from November to March each year. It’s a critical time for right whale moms to bond with their calves, says NOAA.
How To Report A Whale Sighting
Boaters and those on shore along the beaches, if you think you may have sighted a right whale, please contact 1-877-WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5343).
Fernandina Right Whale Festival 2020
Fernandina’s Main Beach Park was the venue of last year’s educational North Atlantic Right Whale Festival (see link below for more information). The 2020 Right Whale Festival is returning to Fernandina Beach, happening November 7-8, 2020.
Learn more at NOAA Fisheries website.