With only around 350 North Atlantic right whales remaining in the ocean, every individual matters for the survival of this critically endangered species. That’s why every year, in the southeastern United States, we track the births of new North Atlantic right whale calves.
Sadly, North Atlantic right whales face threats in the form of vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, ocean noise pollution, and climate change. They can live up to 70 years, but increasing fishing and boating activities—not to mention the imminent threat climate change poses to ocean temperatures—shorten the lifespans of these magnificent marine mammals, who are some of the largest living animals on Earth.
North Atlantic right whales are not reproducing fast enough to offset their deaths. Since NOAA declared an Unusual Mortality Event in 2017, there have been 36 documented right whale deaths, and a further 85 serious injuries and morbidities. Further, research suggests that that only 1/3 of right whale deaths are documented, so the death toll is likely much higher. In comparison, there have only been 69 births in this same period—and at least 4 of those calves died in the same season they were born.
The North Atlantic right whale calving season begins each year in mid-November and ends around mid-April. With only 70 reproductive female North Atlantic right whales remaining, we keep a close watch on them and their new calves to help ensure their survival. Considering these current numbers, 20 new calf births would be considered a relatively productive calving season. However, given the high rate of mortality and injury, North Atlantic right whales need to have at least 50 new calves per year to recover and grow their population. If the species fell to only 50 reproductive females, they would become functionally extinct.
To stay up to date with the latest 2024 North Atlantic Right Whale Calving Season news and receive updates about the births of new whale calves, bookmark this page and check back in regularly. You can also follow us on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter for live updates.
1. Calf of Juno (Catalog #1612)
Spotted on November 28 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the calf of Juno appears no more than four days old at the time of the observation. Juno is at least 38 years old, and this is her eighth documented calf. Her last calf was born four years ago. Juno and her new baby were sighted near the entrance to Winyah Bay in South Carolina.
On January 10th, 2024, NOAA announced that there was an injured North Atlantic right whale calf off Edisto, South Carolina. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and New England Aquarium used the videos collected by the public to identify the whales as Juno #1612. The calf was seen on January 3, 2024, and videos shared by the public showed several propeller wounds on the head, mouth, and left lip of the calf which was consistent of a vessel strike and the calf will likely die as a result. At this time, it’s unknown if Juno is also injured.
2. Calf of Horton (Catalog #3360)
Horton (Catalog #3360) was seen with a new calf on December 7 near St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia, by Clearwater Aquarium. This is Horton’s third known calf, and Horton is more than 21 years old. Sadly, she lost her previous two calves. Horton’s new birth serves as a reminder that it is now more important than ever to reduce vessel speeds to avoid collisions with these whales.
3. Calf of Palmetto (Catalog #1970)
The third calf of the season was spotted on December 8-9 near Port Royal Sound in South Carolina. This is the sixth calf of Catalog #1970, known as Palmetto. She is at least 35 years old. The pair was reported by a boater and the US Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command.
4. Calf of Wolf (Catalog #1703)
The fourth calf of the season, born to Catalog #1703, was spotted on December 22. The pair was seen off Atlantic Beach, near Jacksonville, Florida. Also known as Wolf, Catalog #1703 is 37 years old and has now given birth to five calves total.
Wolf’s last birth was nine years ago, while the typical interval between births for North Atlantic right whales should be about three years. Sadly, due to stressors like entanglement, these whales have not been reproducing as often as they have previously.
5. Calf of Braces (Catalog #3320)
Braces (Catalog #3320) has given birth to the fifth calf of the season. The two were spotted together on December 23 near Nassau Sound, Florida. This is the third calf of Braces, who is at least 26 years old. She had her second calf only two years ago, which sadly signals that it likely died—a right whale mother needs at least one year of recovery after a year of pregnancy and a year of raising her calf.
But the gap between her first two calves was much longer—13 years. Due to stressors in their environment, right whale mothers on average are not giving birth as often as they should be.
6. Calf of Halo (Catalog #3546)
The sixth calf of the season was spotted with Catalog #3546, known as Halo, on December 28. The pair was spotted east of Cumberland Island, Georgia. This calf is Halo’s third, and she is one of the youngest mothers so far this season at 19 years old.
7. Calf of Catalog #3780
A 17-year-old right whale, Catalog #3780, was seen on December 31 with the seventh calf of the season. She was spotted alongside another mother, Legato (Catalog #1802), who also has a new calf. They were seen together near Amelia Island, Florida.
This is the first calf of Catalog #3780, who is now the youngest mother so far this year. At the time it was observed, the calf was fewer than 3 days old.
8. Calf of Legato (Catalog #1802)
Alongside Catalog #3780 and her calf, 36-year-old mother Legato was spotted with a newborn near Amelia Island, Florida, on December 31. This is Legato’s fifth calf on record. As her last calf was born 13 years ago, she serves as an example of how threats in their habitat—like entanglement—are affecting the speed at which North Atlantic right whales reproduce. A healthy right whale in a stress-free environment should be able to have a new calf every three years.
9. Calf of Swerve (Catalog #1810)
The ninth calf of the season—and the first of the new year—was spotted on January 3 off Altamaha Sound, Georgia. Its mother is Catalog #1810, known as Swerve, who has six recorded calves. Swerve is also a grandmother—she has two recorded grand-calves.
Swerve has been entangled in fishing gear twice in her life, and her last calf was born eight years ago. While it’s incredible that she has been able to survive two entanglements and persevere to be a mother and grandmother, many North Atlantic right whales are not so lucky. Entanglement is a stressor that can cause longer periods between births for right whale mothers—and they need all the new calves they can get to replenish their population.
10. Calf of Catalog #1950
Right whale Catalog #1950 has been seen with the 10th calf of the season near St. Simons Island, Georgia. This is the mother’s sixth calf and the first time she’s given birth in nine years. She is at least 36 years old.
11. Calf of Limulus (Catalog #2912)
The 11th calf of the season was spotted with Limulus (Catalog #2912) near Ossabaw Island, Georgia. Limulus last gave birth 11 years ago, and this is her third calf. She’s 25 years old.
12. Calf of Fenway (Catalog #2791)
Fenway (Catalog #2791) is the mother of this season’s 12th North Atlantic right whale calf. The pair was spotted near Cumberland Island, Georgia. This is Fenway’s fourth calf, and she’s at least 28 years old. She last gave birth five years ago.
13. Calf of Half Note (Catalog #1301)
The 13th calf of the season was spotted with mother Half Note (Catalog #1301) near Cumberland Island, Georgia. Unfortunately, this calf appears underweight and unhealthy.
Half Note is 41 years old, and this is her eighth calf. Sadly, Half Note has lost her last five calves, including one two years ago.
14. Calf of Marilyn Monroe (Catalog #3130)
The North Atlantic right whale dubbed ‘Marilyn Monroe’ (Catalog #3130) and her new calf were spotted on January 17 near Jekyll Island, Georgia. This is her fourth calf, and she last gave birth three years ago. She’s 23 years old.
15. Calf of Catalog #3820
The 15th right whale calf of the season has been spotted off Nassau Sound in Florida on January 24, 2024. The mother is Catalog #3820, who is 16 years old—this is her first calf! Only two calves have been born to new mothers so far this season; the other first-timer was Catalog #3780, who is 17 years old.
Most female North Atlantic right whales start giving birth to calves at around 8 to 12 years old. Stress from factors like vessel strikes and entanglement can affect the health of these whales and delay calving.
16. Calf of Butterfly (Catalog #1425)
A new calf was spotted with Butterfly (Catalog #1425) near Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on January 27. This is Butterfly’s fifth calf, and she’s at least 43 years old. Previously, she hadn’t given birth since the 2014 season—one decade ago.
17. Calf of Catalog #3725
A 17-year-old right whale, Catalog #3725, was seen with a new calf on January 30 near Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. This is her first calf. She’s the 17th right whale to give birth this season, and there have been 17 other breeding-age female whales observed in the area that haven’t been seen with calves yet—but they are all potential mothers, and every new right whale matters in the uphill battle to save this species.
18. Calf of Skittle (Catalog #3260)
A female North Atlantic right whale nicknamed Skittle (Catalog #3260) was spotted with a new calf near Kure Beach, North Carolina on February 16. Skittle is at least 22 years old, and this is her second known calf.
19. Calf of Dog-ear (Catalog #3590)
Another right whale mother, nicknamed Dog-ear (Catalog #3590), was seen with a newborn calf off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida on February 16. Dog-ear was born in 2005, making her about 19 years old. This is her first known calf.
The North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog keeps track of every whale and whale calf identified by researchers. Every whale is assigned a four-digit number, but many are also given names—especially those that have unique physical features or interesting stories.
Researchers identified 12 new calves during the 2023 season last year. Among these was the first calf of the whale known as Pilgrim (#4340), who is ten years old.
Fifteen new calves were observed in the 2022 season. One mother whale, Catalog #1515, was seen with her eighth calf off the coast of Georgia. She is estimated to be over 39 years old. The current record for most calves birthed by a North Atlantic right whale (that we know of) is nine. All of these mothers have survived numerous entanglements, with one even giving birth and nursing her calf with a piece of fishing equipment still stuck on her body.
In the 2021 calving season, 20 new calves were born. Unfortunately, two of them became victims of fatal vessel strikes. Their bodies were found washed ashore in Florida and North Carolina. Another calf, observed near Spain’s Canary Islands, was seen without its mother, which means it also likely did not survive.
Past numbers include only 10 calves in 2020, seven calves in 2019, zero in 2018, and five in 2017. Here’s how many right whale calves have been born since the 2007 season:
- 2023: 12 calves
- 2022: 15 calves
- 2021: 20 calves
- 2020: 10 calves
- 2019: 7 calves
- 2018: 0 calves
- 2017: 5 calves
- 2016: 14 calves
- 2015: 17 calves
- 2014: 11 calves
- 2013: 20 calves
- 2012: 7 calves
- 2011: 22 calves
- 2010: 19 calves
- 2009: 39 calves
- 2008: 23 calves
- 2007: 23 calves
How reproduction works for right whales
Every year, North Atlantic right whales migrate more than 1,000 miles from their northern feeding grounds to the shallow, coastal waters in the southeastern US. This is where they breed and birth their calves.
Potential mothers are at reproductive risk due to escalating stressors in the environment. Research shows that the energetic impacts of sub-lethal entanglements and other stressors are stunting the growth of whales; shorter body lengths are associated with longer birth intervals and low birth rates.
Females that have severe injuries from entanglement have the lowest birth rates. As the health of female right whales declines, their birthing intervals increase.
How many babies do North Atlantic right whales have?
The gestation period for North Atlantic right whales is about one year long. After their year-long pregnancy, the mother gives birth to a single calf. Female North Atlantic right whales typically become sexually mature at 10 years old.
The calving interval for reproductive females is widening. Adult females previously gave birth to a calf every three years, but now they are only calving 6-10 years, likely due to the additional stress of entanglement, climate change, and other threats.
How long do North Atlantic right whale calves stay with their mothers?
North Atlantic right whale calves are typically weaned at about one year ￼old.
How big are North Atlantic right whale calves?
Newborn North Atlantic right whale calves are about 13 to 15 feet long and weigh about 2,000 pounds. As adults, they grow to 45 to 55 feet long and can weigh up to 70 tons.
How do we keep track of each individual North Atlantic right whale?
Individual whales are easily identified by callosities, which are raised patches of white roughened skin on their heads. North Atlantic right whales are the only whale species that has callosities. Each individual has a unique pattern of callosities that makes them distinct. Callosities appear white because these whales have cyamids, commonly known as whale lice, which are a type of skeleton shrimp parasite.
How do North Atlantic right whales socialize?
Right whales can be observed actively socializing at the ocean’s surface. Whales doing so are known as surface-active groups (SAGs). Their mating occurs in these SAGs. They communicate with each other using low-frequency groans and pulses, which is why ocean noise pollution has such a negative impact on whales.
How do mother and calf North Atlantic right whales interact and bond?
Just like many other mammals, right whale mothers and their calves show strong attachments to each other. A calf often shows affection by swimming on its mother’s back. They also butt heads, and a mother may roll over to swim upside down and hold her calf with her flippers. Young whales need to stay with their mother for eight to 17 months and cannot survive on their own at this age.
Despite living in the ocean, whales are mammals and need to drink milk as babies. Some whale species drink more than 150 gallons of milk per day and gain 100 pounds per day in their first few months, consuming 2% to 10% of their body weight in milk every day. Once they’re old enough, North Atlantic right whales feed on copepods (tiny crustaceans) and zooplankton by taking in water and filtering it through their baleen plates.
As you might imagine, drinking milk underwater is a challenging feat. Whales don’t have lips, so the calves can’t suckle like other mammals—instead, they get into position beneath their mothers, who then eject a pressured stream into their mouths.
Right whale mother and calf pairs are especially hard to find because they tend to ‘whisper’ to their calves instead of producing easily recognizable up calls, which can make it harder to acoustically detect them. This is why ‘real-time’ detections cannot be relied upon and why more protections are needed.
Generally, when baby whales are born, they are delivered tail first to prevent drowning, but in some situations, they are born headfirst.
Fittingly, since baby whales are called calves, adult female whales are called cows, and adult male whales are called bulls.
How do researchers monitor North Atlantic right whales?
Researchers track and monitor North Atlantic right whales because their populations are so low and threatened by human activity. Scientists observe them from the air, the shore, underwater, or on a boat.
The IFAW-commissioned research vessel Song of the Whale has studied North Atlantic right whales through shipping corridors and fishing grounds during their migration. It’s a quiet, non-invasive boat with features in place to reduce noise pollution.
One way researchers aboard Song of the Whale have studied right whales is through the use of hydrophones—sensitive underwater microphones that pick up the whales’ sounds, which can sound similar to a cow’s moo.
Thermal cameras are another method for monitoring these whales; they can make it easier to locate whales at night. They may prove useful on commercial ships—crews could use them to look ahead of the ship’s path, spot whales in advance, and steer clear to avoid vessel strikes.
The researchers aboard the Song of the Whale vessel have also studied concentrations of di-methyl sulfide (DMS), a gas emitted by right whale prey. The aim is to identify potential links between DMS and aggregations of right whales which could help facilitate the creation of a predictive tool allowing management measures to be implemented prior to the arrival of right whales in a given area.
Through both visual and acoustic surveying, experts aboard the Song of the Whale are able to learn more about the whale’s migratory pattern which helps us to better address the risks facing this important species.
Can I see North Atlantic right whales?
Whale watching is a great economic alternative to whaling. As long as it is done correctly, it does not endanger North Atlantic right whales. IFAW has worked with communities to develop safe, sustainable whale watching practices, in which the operators and their customers take responsibility and implement measures to protect whales and the ocean.
To protect right whales against vessel strikes, please consider signing our petition urging Congress to support “slow zones” for boats.