February 24, 2017 — MELBOURNE, Fla. — Maybe the right whales are all just in the wrong place at the wrong time this year.
Where spotters typically see 20 newborn North Atlantic right whales, this winter only three have been born, the lowest number of newborns since only one was born in 2000.
Three dozen or more adult and baby right whales usually pass through Florida and Georgia waters during the winter calving season, which runs mid-November to mid-April. This year, only seven whales have been documented.
“Not only is it the fewest number of calves, but it’s also the fewest number of individuals seen,” said Phil Hamilton, a research scientist at New England Aquarium, which monitors right whales.
Scientists suspect a warmer North Atlantic, driven in part by climate change, might be disrupting the density of animal plankton that the whales need to feed, increasing the time it takes for females to bulk up for pregnancy and forcing the whales to scatter in search of food.
“A lot of people are doing a lot of head scratching,” Julie Albert, who monitors right whales for the nonprofit Marine Resources Council, said of this winter’s whale migration.