North Atlantic right whale calves #3 and 4 have been spotted amid a backlash over new conservation measures

North Atlantic right whales need more than 50 calves per season to stabilize populations and halt a human-caused dive to extinction. While that would require a miracle given the past few years and the lack of effective whale protection, every new calf counts.

Researchers recently spotted the third and fourth calves of the season. Right whales venture all the way south from their northern feeding grounds to give birth in the warmer waters off northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.

The third whale of the season came courtesy of Porica, right whale #3292. A survivor of two gear entanglements, she gave birth to her third calf and was spotted near Ossabaw Island, Georgia. It’s her first calf since 2011. Right whales used to calve every three to six years, but for many, including Porcia in this case, that takes more than 10 years. She is estimated to be over 21 years old.

“Her first calf died of an entanglement at the age of 10,” according to the New England Aquarium. “Porcia’s last known calf was found dead in the water, wrapped in fishing gear, just before his second birthday. We can only hope that this current calf will outlive its two siblings.”

Right whale #1711 hasn’t been named yet, but she gave birth to her fourth calf last week when an investigative team found the pair near Cape May, Georgia. At 36, No. 1711 survived three entanglements with fishing gear. Her three other calves suffered 11 gear entanglements and a ship strike between them.

This calf is her first since 2017.

Extensive time, effort and data show that fixed-gear lobster and crab traps in the waters off New England and the Canadian Maritimes are by far the greatest threat to the survival of North Atlantic right whales. These heavy ropes maim and result in the death of these whales, of which there are around 340 or fewer, with fewer than 100 females calving.

The Maine legislature inserted a provision in an omnibus spending proposal from Congress that would nullify a federal judge’s decision mandating stricter regulations. The ruling, made this summer, says the federal government has not done enough to save right whales from extinction under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

“Recognizing the potential impact of this judgment on the lobster industry — and on the economies of Maine and Massachusetts — and given the highly complex legal and regulatory environment involved in this case, the court is not seeking relief here.” wrote the judge. “Instead, it will provide an opportunity for the parties to educate themselves further to articulate alternatives for the court to select.”

The regulatory package put forward by NOAA fisheries would further limit fixed-gear traps and pots, along with expanded speed zones for vessel traffic to curb the other major threat to whales, vessel attacks. An attack from a ship as short as 30 feet could prove deadly.

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The determination of the Maine legislature would put a stop to it all, which will keep the 2021 regulations in place for six years, and includes $40 million earmarked for the deployment of equipment and technology such as ropeless, on-demand traps and pots. Another $10 million would be used for grants to reduce entanglement risk and ship strikes.

Many hopes are pinned on on-demand equipment as it can allow the lobster and crab fisheries to make the transition and continue as economically as possible without posing an existential threat to the whales.

The Independent Maine Senator. Angus king controversial data discussed by NOAA’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team showing lines in the water pose the greatest threat to whales.

“You know what kills the most whales? Ships”, King told the Washington Post. “Why don’t we ban all ships along the East Coast of the United States if we say there’s nothing we can do that remotely threatens whales?” Instead, we select 5,000 small business people in Maine. It is unfair and wrong.”

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Callan Tansill

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