020518_whales

Two North Atlantic right whales swim off the coast of Little St. Simons Island. The whale at bottom is known as Halo. She last calved in 2014.

They call her Halo — the right whale was born to another documented calving female, Loligo, in 2005, and was last seen in 2016. That was until staff with the Sea to Shore Alliance spotted her Wednesday near Little St. Simons Island. She, and her companion, are the first right whales seen off the coast of Georgia this calving season, which typically is from November to April.

“There was an adult female spotted that has had calved before — or has had a calf before — and so we’re hoping that she’s pregnant and we’ll have a calf in the upcoming days or weeks,” said Clay George, who heads up the state Department of Natural Resources’ right whale efforts. “There was another whale seen with her that was large and appeared to be an adult or a juvenile, but it was not a calf that was born this year. So, we are hoping that perhaps it was also an adult female and may be pregnant also.”

There has also been action in the Gulf of Mexico this year.

“My understanding, from talking to colleagues that work for the state of Florida, that at least two of the sightings (in the gulf) have been confirmed to be a right whale, and the photos suggest that it may have been the same individual whale was seen in both locations, and if so, it appears to be a 1-year-old whale that was born last year,” George said. “So, those three whales are the only whales that have been seen south of Cape Hatteras, N.C.”

There is more than a little amount of worry among whale researchers and experts that the world could be watching the extinction of right whales, considering births are not keeping up with deaths — especially with human-influenced mortality from whales becoming entangled in heavy fishing gear used for lobsters and snow crabs further north.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States filed suit Jan. 18 against the National Marine Fisheries Service — also known as NOAA Fisheries — for what they say is the agency’s lack of action under the Endangered Species Act to protect right whales.

The case is moving forward in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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