CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute is tracking one of the rarest whales in the world.
The research institute is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to triple its efforts to save the right whale.
Scientists estimate there are less than 400 right whales remaining. Biologists track and monitor their movements to bring awareness to the species.
Melanie White is a research biologist and also the North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation Project Manager.
"The right whale actually got its name the 'right whale' because they were considered to be the targeted species in the days of whaling being that they are very slow swimming animals and they spent a lot of time at the surface," said Melanie White.
On Jan. 19, a right whale and her calf were sighted 10 miles east of Wassaw Island, Georgia. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources said the whale is 14 years old and this is her first known calf.
VIDEO BELOW SENT BY GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, NOAA PERMIT #20556:
By the early 1890s, commercial whalers had hunted right whales in the Atlantic to the brink of extinction. Whaling is no longer a threat, but human interactions still present the greatest danger to this species, according to NOAA.
Entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes are the leading causes of death for the North Atlantic right whale.
"Unfortunately this specific population, their numbers have dwindled so much that they are having a challenging time trying to increase their numbers for their population," said White.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute conducts aerial surveys. Each winter, right whales travel more than 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds off New England and Canada to their calving grounds in the coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia and northeastern Florida.
"There have been a few right whales that have actually entered the Gulf of Mexico in the past so while we anticipate the right whales will tend to be found again anywhere from Savannah down to St. Augustine, we do expand our survey efforts in different areas if necessary depending on where we’re getting reports," said White.
White said aerial surveys are conducted in the winter months anywhere from December to March.
"On good weather days, we’re taking to the skies so we can see where these animals are and continue to monitor their habitat use, their population status, anything we can capture to try and help these animals," said White.
For more information on efforts by CMA Research Institute visit: https://mission.cmaquarium.org/research-institute/right-whale-research/