Four Newborn Right Whale Calves Spotted Near FL-GA Border

Aerial survey teams spotted two moms with two newborn calves offshore of Amelia Island, Florida and in the Nassau Sound on Dec. 31, 2023.

Recent Whale Sightings – Amelia Island & Nassau Sound

So far this calving season, a total of eight North Atlantic right whale calves have been recorded to date, sighted with their mothers during the winter season of 2023-2024. Half of them were spotted near the Florida-Georgia border.

Three of these newborn whales (numbers 5, 7 and 8), were sighted offshore of Amelia Island, Florida and in the Nassau Sound. Number 6 was seen swimming off the barrier island located next door to Amelia, Cumberland Island, GA.

North Atlantic right whales are one of the world’s most endangered large whale species, with only around 350 individuals estimated to remain. Because of their low numbers, protecting every whale is a priority to avoid extinction. According to NOAA, the whales are dying faster than they can reproduce, largely due to human causes. Every single female North Atlantic right whale and calf are vital to this species’ recovery.

Number 7 & 8 Newborn Calves Spotted Dec. 31, 2023

New Year’s Eve 2023 was rather special in the waters off the coast of Amelia Island, FL. According to FWC Fish & Wildlife Research Institute, a newborn calf described as being “less than three days old,” was spotted by aerial survey teams offshore of Amelia Island, Florida on 12/31/2023, swimming with mother known as Catalog #3780. Making it a double delight, a second calf was sighted, too, on the last day of the year, spotted during aerial surveillance in the Nassau Sound with its mother, “Legato” (Catalog #1802).

Amelia Island State Park beachfront along the Nassau Sound in the last hour of daylight on Dec. 31, 2023, was virtually empty (featured photo above). Fewer than a dozen folks lingered along a half mile stretch of shoreline. The Nassau Sound was extremely calm, a flat reflective surface that amplified the lovely pastel hues of sunset on the last day of the year. (The graphic below shows the Nassau Sound located off Amelia Island State Park, and in vicinity of the Talbot Islands.)

Nassau Sound located off south end of Amelia Island, Florida (and along Talbot Islands).
Nassau Sound off south end of Amelia Island, FL. (Map graphic courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

“Many whales have been sighted off Northeast Florida in recent surveys. Boaters are reminded to post a lookout and use caution. Please report right whale sightings to 1-877-WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343) or to the USCG on VHF Ch. 16.”

SOURCE: FWC Fish & Wildlife Research Institute
Calf Number 6

The sixth North Atlantic right whale calf born during this winter calving season was reported being seen east of Cumberland Island, Georgia on December 28th, 2023. The calf was with its mother, “Halo.” (Cumberland Island is located in close proximity to Amelia, on the north side of the St. Marys River, across from Fernandina’s Fort Clinch.)

Calf Number 5

The fifth right whale calf of this winter calving season was sighted off Amelia Island, Florida (east of the Nassau Sound on December 23, 2023), during a CMA Research Institute aerial survey, seen swimming with its mother,“Braces.

“Eyes In The Sky,” Aerial Surveys To Spot Whales

Each year, female whales swim south from colder areas up north to give birth in the warmer waters off America’s Southeastern coastal states. The U.S. right whale management area is seasonally active in southeast waters from November 15th through April 15th. A concentration of births often happens the vicinity of southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida waters, an area that has been described as a right whale “nursery.” At various Amelia Island beach access points, beachgoers will see posted signs about these critically-endangered right whales (sign shown below at Fernandina’s North Beach).

North Atlantic Right Whale beach access sign, Fernandina Beach, FL
North Atlantic Right Whale Sign Posted at Fernandina’s North Beach Park ( file photo)

Looking back, the very first right whale calf of the 2023-2024 winter season was spotted with its mother, “Juno.” The pair was sighted by the Clearwater Marina Aquarium Research Institute’s aerial team on Nov. 28, 2023 off South Carolina.  

Right Whale Festival Held on Amelia Island, FL

Here on Amelia Island, Florida, the plight of the North Atlantic right whale has been a focus of growing attention in recent years. Besides the coastal waters around the Florida-Georgia border being a prime winter calving area, Fernandina Beach became the venue of the annual Right Whale Festival (formerly held in Jacksonville). Also, educational outreach has been expanded locally through the Amelia Whale Ambassadors.

Held at Fernandina’s Main Beach Park located on Amelia Island, the North Atlantic Right Whale Festival’s November 2023 theme was “Less Rope, More Hope.” (This theme refers to one of the main causes of right whale mortality – becoming entangled in fishing gear). 

Photos of Right Whale Calves # 7 & 8

See below a January 1, 2024 Facebook post, photos of right whale calves #7 and # 8, as shared on social media by FWC Fish & Wildlife Research Institute, announcing the newborn calves spotted with their moms on 12/31/2023.