PONTE VERDE BEACH, Florida - The first North Atlantic right whales of the 2015-2016 migration season were spotted off Florida last week during the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's (FWC) annual right whale survey.
The right whale mother and her calf were were spotted approximately 1.5 nautical miles off Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida on Thursday, December 10, 2015.
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered large whales in the world, according to FWC. Approximately 500 animals remain of the western North Atlantic population, which is commonly found off the East Coast of the United States and Canada. Right whales migrate every winter to the east coasts of Georgia and Florida. From November 15 to April 15 each year, pregnant females migrate from their northern feeding grounds to the sheltered waters of the calving ground to give birth to their young.
Whalers labeled these animals "right whales" because they considered them the "right" whales to hunt. They swam slowly in coastal waters, floated when dead, and yielded large amounts of oil and baleen. Right whales had been hunted to near extinction when hunting was finally banned in 1935.
Right whales lack a dorsal fin. Instead, they have a large, flat back. When right whales breathe they produce a V-shaped blow that is often as high as 15 feet and is visible from a great distance. These baleen-type whales feed on tiny zooplankton, measure up to 50 feet in length, and can weigh up to 140,000 pounds.
When Right Whales are active off Florida, speed restrictions of 10 knots apply to vessels 65 feet or greater in specific areas and times along the U.S. East Coast. It is illegal to approach right whales within 500 yards, according to NOAA.
Photo Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, taken under NOAA research permit #15488.