SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Scientists watching for baby right whales off the Southeast U.S. coast have yet to spot a single newborn seven weeks into the endangered species’ calving season — the longest researchers have gone without any sightings in nearly 30 years.
Bad weather that has limited efforts to look for whales could be to blame, rather than a reproductive slump. But scientists also worry it could point to another low birth year for the imperiled whales after a grim 2017, when 17 confirmed right whale deaths far outpaced a scant five recorded births.
“We basically right now should be at the peak of the season and we haven’t seen anything, so that’s concerning,” said Clay George, a wildlife biologist who oversees right whale surveys for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “I’m going from being the optimist I normally am to being pretty pessimistic about it.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates only about 450 North American right whales remain. The agency warned in December the species could face extinction without new protective actions.
Researchers hoped for signs of a robust reproductive year soon after the right whale calving season began Dec. 1. But no calves have been reported off the Atlantic coasts of Georgia and Florida, where the whales typically migrate to give birth each winter. It’s still relatively early in the calving season, which has about three months to go.