Saving the North Atlantic right whale - North AmericaDon't fail our whale
On the research vessel Song of the Whale, a team of researchers sails along the east coast of North America to observe and monitor the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Using specialized underwater microphones, known as hydrophones, researchers detect mother whales and their calves, as their wellbeing is critical for the survival of the species.
The team also takes photos of whales to identify them and works with aerial survey teams to monitor their locations. All of their work is part of the crucial conservation effort to save this species from extinction.
Katie Seaberg: We’re at what we would call a boiling point for the North Atlantic right whale. There are about 340 individuals left, and about a third of those or less are reproductive females. A lot of these females—they’re just not healthy enough to have babies anymore.
Text: In January 2023, IFAW commissioned the research vessel Song of the Whale to sail the US east coast to study critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whales.
Richard McLanaghan: We’ve been running some survey tracks in and around the Florida-Georgia area to help locate mother-calf pairs to assess their status and identify them.
Right whales are not particularly easy to find at sea. We use hydrophones, which are very sensitive underwater microphones, and listen for the sounds that the right whales are making to identify that they’re in an area.
Dr. Oliver (Olly) Boisseau: We’re recording all the time, and we’re continuously looking for the vocalizations of right whales. We know that the mothers with their calves are often very quiet, so they don’t seem to want to attract too much attention to themselves.
We spend a lot of our time trying to find the whales, but sometimes they find us.
Judith Matz: One morning, we had just picked up our anchor and wanted to get going, and then about 50 yards away, all of a sudden, a right whale breaches. It was quite spectacular.
Crew: A breaching whale!
Killian Glynn: And then it turned out that it was a mum and a calf. And then we were keeping a live location of them for a couple of hours, trying to get photo ID on them.
Richard: Having taken our photo ID pictures, we emailed several of those to the central agencies who are operating down in these waters, and they were immediately able to identify the individuals. The mother is called Archipelago. She’d given birth to a new calf comparatively recently. So, they were pleased to be able to confirm that mother and calf are still doing well. And they sent one of the aerial survey teams out to take some additional photographs as well.
All the research that we do with the Song of the Whale is contributing a little bit more information to the puzzle of what’s going on with right whales. The right whale is so critically endangered. We need to understand everything we can about how they live their lives, particularly mother-calf pairs.
Olly: We need to make sure the calves are not only being born, but they’re also surviving to adulthood. We all need to work hard to protect them, because they’re the future of the species.