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Right whale calf spotted off Georgia restores hope for species

The Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The first newborn right whale of the winter calving season has been spotted off the coast of Georgia.

The critically endangered whales migrate each winter to warmer waters of the southeastern U.S. coast to give birth. Scientists estimate just over 400 North Atlantic right whales remain, making each newborn calf crucial to avoiding extinction.

An aerial survey team spotted the first mother-and-calf pair of the 2019-2020 season Monday in waters off Sapelo Island, about 50 miles south of Savannah, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said in a news release.

Researchers have become increasingly worried about right whales’ prospects for survival as deaths in recent years have outpaced births. Seven right whales calves were recorded last winter during daily survey flights offshore of Georgia and Florida. Meanwhile, at least 10 right whales were found dead in 2019. Three had been struck by ships, and one died after becoming entangled in fishing gear.

The 2017-2018 calving season ended with no right whale births recorded — the only year not even a single calf has been seen in three decades.