North Atlantic Right Whale Calving Season 2022
North Atlantic right whales are approaching extinction with fewer than 350 remaining. With so few of these whales left, researchers closely monitor the southeastern United States for new offspring during the annual right whale calving season.
Every single female North Atlantic right whale and calf are vital to this species’ recovery. So far, researchers have identified eleven live calves this calving season. Check back here or follow NOAA Fisheries on Twitter for updates.
North Atlantic right whales are dying faster than they can reproduce, largely due to human causes. Since 2017, the whales have been experiencing an Unusual Mortality Event, which has resulted in more than 14 percent of the population either dead or seriously injured. The primary causes of the Unusual Mortality Event are entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with boats and ships. In addition, there are fewer breeding females producing fewer calves each year, which impacts the ability of the species to recover. Researchers estimate there are fewer than 70 reproductively active North Atlantic right whale females remaining.
Meet the Mothers and Calves of the 2022 Season
Every identified North Atlantic right whale has an assigned four-digit number in the Right Whale Catalog. Researchers assign names to whales that have a unique physical feature or a strong story in connection to a community or habitat where they were seen.
While we are excited to see eleven new mom-calf pairs so far this calving season, North Atlantic right whales are dying faster than they can reproduce. That's why every whale counts.
With the current number of females and the necessary resting time between births, 20 newborns in a calving season would be considered a relatively productive year. However, given the estimated rate of human-caused mortality and serious injury, we need approximately 50 or more calves per year for many years to stop the decline and allow for recovery. The only solution is to significantly reduce human-caused mortality and injuries, as well as stressors on reproduction.
On January 6, 2022, a Clearwater Aquarium Research Institute aerial survey team sighted the pair near Ossabaw Island, Georgia. Researchers were able to identify the mother as #3220 from the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog by comparing their photos with the ones from the December 24 sighting. #3220 is a rarely sighted right whale; this was the first time she has been seen since 2012. She is over 20 years old and this is her third calf. Her 2012 male calf was recently sighted off the coast of North Carolina.
A mariner sighted a right whale and her calf on December 31, 2021 near Sapelo Island, Georgia. The mariner took photographs from a safe distance (over 500 yards away) and reported the sighting to the NOAA Fisheries hotline 877-WHALE-HELP ((877) 942-5343). NOAA Fisheries and its partners were able to identify the whale as Catalog #2040, a right whale known as "Naevus." Naevus is 32 years old and this is her sixth known calf. Her last calf was born in 2014.
If a vessel finds itself within 500 yards of a right whale, it must depart immediately at a safe, slow speed.
"Tripelago" and her calf were observed off St. Simons Sound in Georgia on December 26, 2021. Tripelago is 26 years old and this is her fifth known calf. The pair was spotted by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute aerial survey team funded by NOAA and Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Previously, she produced three male calves and one female calf. Three were seen as recently as 2020, but one calf (male) has not been seen since 2017.
"Derecha," which means "right" in Spanish, and her calf were sighted off the St. Johns River Entrance in Florida on December 18, 2021. Derecha is at least 29 years old and this is her fifth known calf. Her 2020 calf suffered a vessel strike, which resulted in propeller wounds to its head and mouth, when it was just a few days old. The calf was last seen on January 15, 2020 when antibiotics were administered, and is presumed to have died.
Right whale #3430 was sighted with her calf off Amelia Island, Florida by a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial survey team on December 18, 2021. Catalog #3430 is 18 years old and this is her second known calf. Her first calf, a male, was seen last year. #3430's mother, Celeste (#2330), had four known calves, but has not been sighted since 2014.
A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial survey team sighted a right whale known as "Braces" and her calf near Nassau Sound, Florida on December 16, 2021. Braces is at least 24 years old, and this is her second known calf. Her 2009 male calf was seen last year.
A right whale known as "Silt" and her calf were observed off Fernandina Beach, Florida on December 16, 2021. "Silt" is at least 34 years old, and this is her fifth known calf. Her 2002 calf, #3317, had a calf in 2019, and all three generations were seen feeding in Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts in 2019. Her fourth calf, born during the 2009 calving season, has not been seen since then and is presumed dead.
A right whale known as "Arpeggio" and her calf were sighted near Morris Island, South Carolina on December 10, 2021. Arpeggio is 25 years old and this is her third known calf. Arpeggio's 2008 male calf (#3853) likely died from a vessel collision; he was last seen in 2011 with numerous severe vessel propeller wounds on his back.
A right whale known as "Mantis" was sighted with her new calf near Ossabaw Island, Georgia on December 10, 2021. Mantis is 36 years old and this is her seventh documented calf. Three of her female calves, born in 2007, 2010, and 2015, were all sighted last year.
Snow Cone (#3560)
Snow Cone was spotted with a new calf on December 2, 2021 off the coast of Cumberland Island, Georgia. She has also been entangled in fishing rope for months despite disentanglement responders' attempts to free her. Snow Cone is 17 years old and this is her second known calf. This new calf is good news after Snow Cone lost her six-month old calf to a vessel strike last year.
An Army Corps of Engineers-funded aerial survey team with Clearwater Marine Aquarium staff sighted the first identified mother-calf pair of the right whale calving season on November 24, 2021. Slalom, a 40-year old female, was sighted with her sixth calf off Pawleys Island, South Carolina. This followed the sighting of an unknown mother-calf pair earlier in November. Two of Slalom’s previous calves, both females, haven’t been sighted in recent years and are presumed dead. Her other three previous calves, all males, were still alive in 2020.
Right Whale Reproduction
The right whale calving season begins in mid-November and runs through mid-April. Female right whales become sexually mature at about age 10. They give birth to a single calf after a year-long pregnancy. Three years is considered a normal or healthy interval between right whale births. But now, females are having calves every 7 to 10 years, on average. Biologists believe that the stress caused by entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with boats and ships is one of the reasons that females are calving less often or not at all.
Each fall, some right whales travel more than 1,000 miles from their feeding areas in the waters off New England and Canada to the shallow, coastal waters of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and northeastern Florida. The southeastern United States is the only known area where right whales regularly give birth and nurse their young.
Monitoring Right Whales with Aerial Surveys
A number of government agencies fund and conduct right whale aerial surveys between North Carolina and northeast Florida during the calving season. These agencies include the Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, Navy, NOAA, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. All of these aerial survey teams:
Monitor the seasonal presence of right whales and their habitat use
Alert mariners, boaters, and partners to the whales’ locations
Monitor calf production
Provide sighting support for biopsy efforts
Detect and respond to reports of dead, injured, and entangled whales
Other key partners in monitoring the right whale calving area include Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the New England Aquarium.
Collecting Genetic Samples to Identify Right Whales
Boat-based teams from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission collect biopsy samples from right whale calves and other right whales that haven’t been previously sampled. You can think of these biopsies as similar to blood samples you provide to personal genetic DNA testing companies to learn about who you are and your family relationships. Identifying as many individual right whales each year as possible is crucial for monitoring the population; data on individual whales are used in models that estimate the total number of right whales.
How You Can Help: Go Slow and Stay Alert for Right Whales
Calving season is an especially vulnerable period for these whales. Mom and calf pairs spend the majority of their time at, or near the water's surface. Additionally, right whales can be surprisingly difficult to spot, especially in poor weather or low light conditions, in part because they are dark in color and lack a dorsal fin. Most boaters who reported striking a right whale didn’t see the whale prior to colliding with it.
Right whales have been injured or killed by all types and sizes of vessels—from recreational boats to large ocean-going ships. Additionally, disturbance from watercraft or aircraft could affect behaviors critical to the health and survival of the species. It is extremely important for all mariners and boaters to slow down, stay alert, and give these whales plenty of room.
Go Slow—Whales Below
Slower speeds are known to reduce the severity of impacts when collisions with whales occur and may provide boat and vessel operators an opportunity to avoid a collision. NOAA Fisheries strongly urges all mariners and boaters to slow down to 10 knots or less in areas where right whales are likely present to prevent collisions, which can seriously injure or kill right whales.
In advance of your trip, check the NOAA Right Whale Sightings Advisory System or the Whale Alert App for active right whale safety zones, including Seasonal and Dynamic Management Areas, and Right Whale Slow Zones, and recent whale sightings near your location.
All boaters from Maine to Virginia, or interested parties, can sign up for email or text notifications about the latest Right Whale Slow Zones.
Be On the Lookout
Post a lookout. Watch for black objects, white water, and splashes. Avoid boating in the dark or in rough seas, when visibility is poor.
Give Right Whales Space
Federal law requires vessels, paddle boarders, and aircraft (including drones) to stay at least 500 yards (five football fields) away from right whales. Any vessel within 500 yards of a right whale must depart immediately at a safe, slow speed. These restrictions are in place to prevent accidental collisions between right whales and boats as well as to protect the whales from disturbance.
To report a right whale sighting from North Carolina to Florida, or a dead, injured, or entangled whale, contact NOAA Fisheries at (877) WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343) or the Coast Guard on marine VHF channel 16. Please report sightings from Virginia to Maine by calling (866) 755-6622. If safe, and from the legally required 500-yard distance, please take a photo and note the GPS coordinates to share with biologists.