TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A new study by the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium shows a downward trend for the endangered species’ population.
The consortium releases a preview of its annual report card on the status of right whales every October. This report showed, using the best available data and additional photographic data, the 2020 population estimate of the whales to be 348 (plus or minus five for range of error).
According to the preview, at the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium’s annual meeting this week, researchers estimate the endangered species totaled 340 animals (plus or minus seven) in 2021.
“The current population estimate represents a continued decline for the species, showing more individual whales died than were born,” the report states.
“While it is certainly good to see the slope of the trajectory slow, the unfortunate reality is that the species continues to trend downward, with fewer than 350 individuals alive in 2021,” said Heather Pettis, research scientist in the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life and executive administrator of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium.
The report also provides data on the concern for calves born in 2022, which is around 15. That number is lower than the 18 born in 2021, and below the average of 24 calves per year in the early 2000s.
The report said there were no first-time mothers to give birth in the group. Recent research revealed that fewer right whales are capable of reproducing.
“With this new population estimate, the species number is now down to what it was around 2001. In the ensuing decade, the population increased by 150 whales; that tells us this species can recover if we stop injuring and killing them,” said Philip Hamilton, senior scientist at the New England Aquarium and the identification database curator for the Consortium.
The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium meeting will be held Oct. 25 and 26. Reports on right whale deaths, entanglements and vessel strikes will be released.
So far in 2022, there have been no detected right whale mortalities, but scientists note that roughly two thirds of deaths go undocumented.
There have been five right whale entanglements and whales have been seen with fishing gear attached to them, some causing injuries leading to wounds and scars. One boat strike to a right whale was reported so far this year.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the coastal waters off Florida and Georgia are the only known calving areas for the North Atlantic right whale. The waters have been designated as right whale critical habitat by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.
Right whales are typically seen off Florida between November and April, according to FWC.
The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium was founded in 1986 by the New England Aquarium, the University of Rhode Island, the Center for Coastal Studies, Marineland of Florida and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.