The most endangered whales on the planet are born within 15 miles of the Georgia and North Florida coast every winter between December through March.
Heavily hunted for more than 900 years, right whales have yet to recover from the pressures of historic whaling. Before the era of whaling, right whale populations were estimated to be over 100,000. By 1935, as whaling became illegal, it's believed that less than one hundred individuals survived.
Right whales gained federal protection in 1973 with the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
In the winter of 1981-82, Charles Cowan, Hans Neauhauser, and Cathy Sakas discovered a beached N. Atlantic right whale calf on a Little St. Simons beach off Coastal Georgia.
In 1984, Scott Kraus, leading North Atlantic right whale researcher from the New England Aquarium, and Delta Airlines pilot First Officer David Mattingly organized aerial surveillance research which would document mothers and newborn calves along the Georgia coast. With a lack of funding or support the aerial surveys were made possible by pilots willing to volunteer their time for free and private airplanes. This hotshot team of scientists, pilots, and activists become known as the “Delta Surveys”.
In 1985, following the discovery of this calving area just 15 miles off the coast of Georgia and northern Florida, Dave Mattingly and Hans Neauhauser led a successful campaign to the Georgia State Assembly to officially designate the right whale as Georgia’s state marine mammal.
Human behavior and industries of scale would determine the destiny of this species over the next few decades.
Dubbed the ‘urban whale,’ right whales breed, feed, and migrate within 50 miles of the eastern seaboard, in the most urbanized ocean on the planet. As a result, NArw are subject to human-related mortality due to commercial fishing and shipping.
The two most prominent threats to NArw are entanglement in fishing gear or collision with vessels also known as strikes. These fisheries that pose a threat are generally in the northern waters on the US and also in Canada. Whereas there are major ports all along the whales migratory corridor.
The disentanglement teams for whales risk their lives to save the whales. On July 5th 2017 Joe Howlett lost his life disentangling a NArw. He was a lobster fisherman who helped to develop a rescue team in 2002. His expertise working with fishing equipment and ropes made him adept at helping cut entangled marine mammals free. He worked tirelessly for fifteen years to save our urban whales.
There are now approximately 360 right whales in the current population, with as few as 100 reproductive females. There has been a 99.99 percent decline in the right whale population since 2010. Research suggests that within 23 years, we will lose all the reproductive age female N. Atlantic right whales, and that would signal the beginning of the end of a species.
On Sunday November 24th 2019 the first North Atlantic right whale was spotted off the coast of Florida for the 2019/20 calving season.  Her name is Harmonia and she last gave birth in 2015.  Harmonia is a reminder of hope of the will for survival.
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