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Right Whale “Horton” Keeps Fighting to Save Her Species

December 13, 2023

Known mom gives birth to third calf, but is it enough?

Known North Atlantic Right Whale, "Horton" and her new calf, NOAA Permit #26919 Known North Atlantic Right Whale, "Horton" and her new calf, Photo: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute/NOAA Permit #26919 funded by United States Army Corps of Engineers

Exciting news! The second right whale calf of the 2023–24 season made an appearance Thursday with mom “Horton” off St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia. And while the news is good for a species fighting for survival, biologists remain realistic, knowing more calves need to be born during a given season.

From the air, a survey team with Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute watched Horton (#3360) swim next to her new calf. But for how long? First seen in 2003, this mom has given birth to two calves in the past, but both are now presumed dead. This is her first calf in 14 years.

In 2007, Horton gave birth to a male calf, #3791, called Truffula. Truffula was last seen alive in September 2016. The previous spring he was reported as being emaciated and in poor condition, with visible signs of injuries indicative of an entanglement although no gear could be seen. 

Horton with her calf Truffala in 2007
Horton with her calf Truffula in 2007, Photo: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute/NOAA Permit #594-1759

Horton’s second calf, #4090, was born in 2010. Less than a year after birth, before it was given a name or identified as male or female, #4090 was spotted entangled in gillnet gear. The young whale wasn’t seen again and is presumed dead.

Horton with her calf in 2010
Horton with her calf in 2010, Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission//NOAA Permit #594-1759

Horton herself was spotted by aerial teams in early 2014 with evidence of recent and significant but healing injuries due to an entanglement. It’s hard to have babies when you’re fighting for your own life.

The math for right whales like Horton doesn’t tell a good story. There are approximately 360 right whales in the population. There are less than 70 reproductive females; they produce, on average, 1 calf every 7 or more years.

“Because so many whales have died in recent years, we need at least 50 calves per season for many years to stop the decline and allow for recovery. Basically we need two-thirds of the reproductive females, or many of the females who are old enough to calve but haven’t yet, to have a calf between now and April when they head north again.” said Laura Engleby, NOAA Fisheries Southeast Marine Mammal Branch Chief.

So for now, biologists take to the sky, searching for mom/calf pairs. They hope to assign a new number and name as these right whale calves enter this endangered population. 

Horton got her name from the small speck of a scar on the right side of her head. It’s based on the Dr. Suess character Horton, the elephant that carried a world the size of a speck.

For tracking and data collection purposes, scientists give right whales a number; they also give them a name. It’s a relatable way for people to follow them season after season as they move from waters off the Northeast U.S. and Canada to Florida and back again. It’s also a way for us to connect with them, remember them, follow their progress, tell their stories, and remain hopeful for their success. So when you think of Horton, think about how hard she is fighting—not only to survive, but to do her part to save her entire species.

What Can I Do?

While their story is bleak, right whale moms like Horton continue to fight for their survival. And so should we, but how? 

Slow Down

Right whale mother-calf pairs are at heightened risk for vessel strikes because these individuals spend nearly all their time at or close to the water surface, but are difficult to see.

Reducing vessel speed allows you to keep a close eye out for right whales and other protected species, and reduces the chances of a lethal collision. Know where and when seasonal restrictions are in effect and slow your vessel down to 10 knots or less when in these areas.

Report Seeing a North Atlantic Right Whale

Please report all right whale sightings from Florida to North Carolina at (877) WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343) and from Virginia to Maine at (866) 755-6622. Right whale sightings in any location may also be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard via channel 16.

Give Whales Space

To protect right whales, NOAA Fisheries has regulations that prohibit approaching or remaining within 500 yards of a right whale. That’s the length of about five football fields. These regulations apply to vessels and aircrafts (including drones) and to people using other watercrafts, such as surfboards, kayaks, and jet skis. Any vessel within 500 yards of a right whale must depart immediately at a safe, slow speed.

Call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964 to report a federal marine resource violation. This hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone in the United States.

Get Informed and Involved

Stay updated on right whale take reduction and other conservation measures. For accurate information, keep up with our news and announcements or follow us on social media. Participate in public meetings and share your perspectives with Take Reduction Team members who represent your constituency.

Follow their Stories

Using their number, you can track known whales, see photos and drawings depicting the marks scientists use to identify them. Learn more about the 2024 moms


Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on December 15, 2023