Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wart's family grows

Naevus, Wart's calf born in 1990, was seen with a new born calf, less than three days old, on December 20 off Sapelo Island, Georgia.  This is the fifth calf of Naevus, the other calves born in 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011.  Her calving interval is very regular and the minimum for right whale females, every three years.  The pregnancy is a year, nursing is a year and there is a year to recover the weight lost during the nursing period which can be an incredible 10 tons.  Shorter calving intervals only occur when a calf is lost shortly after birth and the intensive nursing period does not occur.

A news article about the birth can be found in the Savannah Morning News:  Two photos of mom and calf are also included: and

This brings Wart's family to seven calves, twelve grand-calves and four great grand-calves, with all generations still reproducing.  Wart had her seventh calf this past season.

Fingers crossed that more calves are to come.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sighting of Catspaw and Calf

While hopes were initially high that a number of right whale mothers and calves would come into the Bay of Fundy this year after twenty calves were born, such was not the case.  Only a handful of right whales were seen and none spend much time in the Bay.  The culprit - most likely a lack of food in the form of copepods, their preferred diet.  It was disappointing for everyone and confusing as to where the right whales might be.

A couple of sightings were reported from Cape Breton, not an expected location.  The  New England Aquarium were able to do a few surveys in the second critical habitat in Canada, Roseway Basin.  The first survey in the third week in August had only a few right whales but numbers grew for the second survey in the middle of September when Catspaw and her calf were photographed (November 19, 2013).  Catspaw is only seen in the Bay of Fundy when she has a calf so we will have to wait until her next calf to see her again, fingers crossed that the copepod biomass returns to a better level.  Fortunately the New England Aquarium reported that the calf had a big fat roll, indicating a healthy baby and mom.

It will be interesting to see how many calves will be born this year after two bad years in the Bay of Fundy with 2013 being the worse.  Because there is a year delay from a poor food availability year, this year and next will let us know if the right whales have found adequate food elsewhere.  Of course, everyone would like to know where that is so the whales can be monitored in this unknown habitat and users of the area can be educated about right whales if they are not familiar with these endangered whales.

There is much discussion after the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium meeting about the whereabouts of right whales.  Here is a link to an article:

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Catspaw's Fourth Calf

Catspaw has a new calf this season.  We only see Catspaw in the Bay of Fundy when she has a calf, the same as Wart who also never comes to the Bay unless she has a calf, so we look forward to seeing both of them this summer in the Bay.

This is Catspaw's fourth calf.  She has had calves in 2002, a female, 2005, a male, 2008, another male, and now one in 2013.  We don't know the sex of this calf yet, but because a small skin sample was taken from the calf while it was in the calving area, the sex of the calf will be known once the genetic material is analyzed.

The head of Catspaw.  The callosities or rough patches of skin, are used to identify individuals.  These rough patches of skin develop in the first six months and remain a reliable method to identify individuals throughout their lives.
The New England Aquarium right whale researchers are attempting to get skin samples from every calf.  The newborns are not individually recognizable because they have no callosities.  If they are not seen with their mothers after the callosities emerge, they can not be identified through their mothers except with the genetic fingerprinting.  This will hopefully help when juvenile whales are photographed and a match can not be found in the right whale catalogue.  Getting a skin sample from the juvenile and comparing it to calf samples can determine whose its mother is.  There is still a percentage of the right whale population who have not been genetically profiled so it makes it difficult to work backwards to find the parents.

Catspaw has had an interesting sighting history, identified in 1986, seen for two years and then disappearing from the camera lens until 2000.  She was put on the probably dead shelf but was happily "resurrected" and went on to become a mother.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wart and Calf

Wart, #1140, and her calf were resighted during an aerial survey in mid April, again in the Cape Cod area.  While it was very exciting to know about Wart and her new calf being seen in January in Cape Cod Bay, many worried about the calf but the calf seems to be fine, growing and as far as is known, has never been to the calving area in the southeast US.

Right whale occurrence has been unusual this winter with few whales in the calving area, other than calving females, and few right whales in the Cape Cod area from January through March.  In late March, right whales suddenly appeared in large numbers in the Cape Cod area.  This continues the unpredictable distribution of last summer.

We look forward to see what will happen in the Bay of Fundy this summer with 20 new calves, some of which will come to the Bay with their mothers.
Wart and her new calf seen in January off Cape Cod. 
Allison Henry/NEFSC under Center for Coastal Studies NOAA permit #14603
Check out the New England Aquarium's blog with links to newspaper articles about Wart and her newest calf:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wart's New Calf

Calving in right whales can often be a family affair with several generations of females calving in the same year.  This is the case with Wart this year.  She has been seen with a new calf, not in the southeastern calving area as would be expected this time of year, but rather in Cape Cod Bay!  This is the first time she has been photographed since early May 2010 when she was disentangled after first being seen entangled in 2008.

As mentioned in a post on December 31, 2012, Wart's daughter Black Heart and her grand-daughter Millipede both have been seen with calves.  This is Wart's seventh known calf and her first calf since 2005 when she had Black Heart.  

Why is she in Cape Cod Bay with a new calf at this time of year and what was she doing for the last few years is one of the reasons right whales keep everyone on their toes. Right whale mothers have been seen with new calves in areas other than the calving area but it is rare. Usually when a mother is seen with a calf outside the calving area it is because she was missed during the aerial surveys, presuming that she was in the calving area. However, right whale female Derecha, #2360, who gave birth in the Great South Channel in the late spring in 2007, headed south and was seen off Florida on 17 July.  She then turned around and was seen in the Bay of Fundy for the month of September.  It will be interesting to see if Wart will head south as well.
Right whale Derecha #2360 seen in the Bay of Fundy September 4, 2007 after swimming from the Great South Channel to Florida and back with her calf.

Right whale Derecha #2360 seen in the Bay of Fundy September 4, 2007 after swimming from the Great South Channel to Florida and back with her calf.

Two of the females seen on Jordan Basin in the Gulf of Maine just over a year ago have been seen with calves in January.  The Jordan Basin is a proposed mating area for right whales and with these two females, that connection now seems solid, but as with all things to do with right whales is probably one of several mating areas.  It is an excellent reason to protect the area for right whales and make it a critical right whale habitat.

With so few whales, it is amazing that they can do so many unexpected things.