The past three years have been devastating for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. Only 400 individuals of the species are thought to remain. Since 2017, over the course of three right whale calving seasons in US and Canadian waters, there have been only 12 births (less than one third the average) and 30 deaths. There is hope, however, that the current season may signal a reversal of this trend. As of mid-February, 10 new calves had been sighted by researchers, with calving season, which runs from December through March, still underway.
Individual right whales can be identified based on a whale’s pattern of callosities—raised patches of skin on the head, jaw, and eyebrows that are as unique as fingerprints. Based on such identifications, researchers know that a number of the right whale mothers this year are not new moms. Echo, a 24-year-old right whale, was spotted with a new baby—her third—off the coast of Florida. Arrow (18) has given birth for the second time, while Palmetto (31) has had her fifth calf.
One 2020 whale mother is especially well known to researchers. Born in 1992, Calvin was orphaned at eight months when her mother was killed by a ship strike. Named for the character in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, her personality has been described as spunky and pugnacious, and she survived her own brush with death when she was disentangled from fishing gear in 2000. Calvin has been sighted this year with her fourth calf, another symbol of hope for her species.