Nova Scotia

Endangered right whale experiencing mini-baby boom off New England

The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is experiencing a mini-baby boom in New England waters, researchers on Cape Cod have said.

7 baby right whales have been spotted so far this year after no calves survived last year

In this April 11, 2019, photo provided by the Center for Coastal Studies, a baby right whale swims with its mother in Cape Cod Bay off Massachusetts. Researchers say they have located three right whale calves in the bay recently after finding none in 2018. The whales are among the rarest in the world. (Amy James/Center for Coastal Studies/NOAA permit 19315-1 via AP)

The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is experiencing a mini-baby boom in New England waters, researchers on Cape Cod have said.

The right whale is one of the rarest species of whale on the planet, numbering only about 411.

But the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., said Friday its aerial survey team spotted two mom-and-calf pairs in Cape Cod Bay a day earlier. That brings the number seen in New England waters alone this year to three.

That's big news because the right whale population has been falling, and no calves were seen last year. In all, seven right whale calves have been seen so far this year.

Some mothers and calves were seen earlier in the year off the breeding grounds of the southern U.S., including Florida and Georgia. They're now all making their way north to the summer feeding grounds off New England and eventually eastern Canada.

In 2017, 18 North Atlantic right whales were confirmed dead after some got tangled in fishing gear and others were struck by ships. Twelve of the whales were found in Canadian waters.

In this March 28, 2018 photo, a North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. After years of increasingly bad news, there's a glimmer of hope for the beleaguered North Atlantic right whale. (Michael Dwyer/CP/AP)

As a result, the Canadian government introduced restrictions for marine traffic in the 2018 season. They included an earlier start and end to the snow crab fishing season in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, fixed and temporary closures of fishing areas and shipping lanes where whales are spotted, and an earlier speed restriction for ships in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence.

No whales were reported to have been found dead in Canadian waters in 2018.

Earlier this year, the federal government announced it would ease some of the restrictions brought in this year. 

The whales give birth off Georgia and Florida in the winter and travel to feeding grounds off New England in the early spring, including the Gulf of Maine, which touches Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Canada.

Hefty fines for getting too close to whales

Cape Cod Bay is part of the Gulf of Maine and is a critically important feeding ground. The animals often feed close to shore, providing watchers on land "unbeatable views of one of the rarest of marine mammals," the Center for Coastal Studies said in a statement.

Those who come within 100 metres of whales in Canada could face hefty fines. In 2018, the Canadian government said those who break the rules under the Fisheries Act could fact penalties of $100,000 to $500,000. Repeat offences could result in an even higher fine amount or even imprisonment, according to DFO.

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With files from CBC-Radio Canada

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