Whale calving waters off Georgia coast are under threat
Right whales face new obstacles such as the Navy's proposed undersea warfare training range and an increase in number of ship strikes.
Thu, Jul 01 2010 at 2:13 PM
NEW OBSTACLES: A North Atlantic right whale swims with her calf in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Georgia near the Florida line. (Photo: New England Aquarium/AP)
Every fall, North Atlantic right whales swim more than 1,000 miles to the warmer waters off the coast of Georgia and Florida, where the conditions are just right for female whales to give birth.
Experts say 19 calves were born this calving season, which runs between November and April — an impressive number given that there are only about 350 to 400 right whales in existence. Though experts are pleased with the number, they remain concerned about the mounting threats to this already fragile, endangered species.
One concern is the continued threat of ship strikes and entanglement as the whales head back north from Georgia. A study completed last year led to a change in shipping lanes, shifting them about five miles north of the whale’s migratory routes, significantly reducing the number of whale-ship contacts, says Cathy Sakas with Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.
Another potential problem: the U.S. Navy’s undersea warfare training range, which is planned off the coast of Georgia and Florida, not far from the right whale’s calving grounds. And scientists and environmentalists also worry about the impact on the whales from the lifting of a decades-old ban on offshore oil exploration along the Georgia coast.
The Georgia Conservancy’s coastal office chose to celebrate Earth Day this past April by hosting a “Fare Whale” event at the Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Center to mark the close of right whale calving season.
Facts about the North Atlantic right whale:
• Population: Estimated to be between 350 and 400
• Size: Adult right whales grow to an average of 35–55 feet long and weigh up to 70 tons.
• Name: During the whaling era, these animals were supposedly the “right” whale to target because of their blubber oil and ease in hunting.
• Georgia connection: Each fall, pregnant females travel more than 1,400 miles to the temperate waters off the Georgia and Florida coasts to give birth. Calving season runs from Nov. 15 to April 15.
• Threats: Contact with ships; the U.S. Navy’s proposed undersea training range; and oil drilling and exploration.
This story was written by Paul Donsky of the Georgia Conservancy, an environmental advocacy and conservation organization based in Atlanta that strives to protect Georgia’s natural resources. To learn more, visit www.georgiaconservancy.org.