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Welcome to the world: First North Atlantic right whale calf of the season spotted

Juno and her calf were spotted off the coast of South Carolina.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #26919. Funded by United States Army Corps of Engineers.
Juno and her calf were spotted off the coast of South Carolina.

The first North Atlantic right whale calf of the season was just spotted off the coast of South Carolina. It’s an annual sign of hope for the critically endangered species.

The calf — who’s no more than 4 days old — was seen with its mother, who researchers call Juno. It’s the 8th documented calf for Juno, who’s one of just 70 breeding females remaining for the critically endangered species.

Melanie White, who oversees the team that spotted the calf by aerial survey, said her crew was downright giddy.

“Your heart starts racing. You are just excited. You're sitting in a small aircraft and you feel like you're on top of the world knowing that [you] were able to come across this wild animal,” she said.  White  is the North Atlantic right whale conservation project manager for Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, based in Clearwater, Florida.

This news comes just one month after scientists estimated the right whales’ population is hovering around 360. Collisions with boats, entanglements in rope and fishing gear, and climate change are currently the leading causes of death for the whales, and if the population can’t recover, extinction is a very real possibility.

Because of that, White said, every calf is a reason to celebrate.”

“The first calf of this calving season is something that anybody who works with right whales is absolutely elated about,” she said. “It just is why we're all here.”

Experts say they hope to see at least 30 healthy calves born into the population. That would be twice the number born last year.

“It is vitally important that not only are we seeing calves being born, but hopefully seeing numerous calves,” she said. “Again, the population is not where really anybody would like it to be.” 

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.

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