Categories: NOAA

UPDATE: Endangered Right Whales Leave Sebastian Inlet

A female right whale named ‘Clipper’ and her calf swim along the north bank of Sebastian Inlet on Feb. 9, 2016. The pair made 16 attempts to pass under the bridge before they finally succeeded. Photo credit: FWC

12:30 PM UPDATE: The whales have left the inlet for the open ocean.

11:45 AM UPDATE: The whales started to head for the open ocean through the inlet, but turned back.

SEBASTIAN INLET, Florida – Two endangered North Atlantic right whales, a mother and her calf, entered the Indian River Lagoon through Sebastian Inlet from the open Atlantic Ocean off the coast of East Central Florida on Monday.

The whales were spotted by bystanders just before noon and have remained in the inlet ever since. Florida Fish and Wildlife officials responded to the scene to keep boaters away from the whales. NOAA Fisheries for the U.S. Southeastern region issued a warning on Twitter to boaters and other would-be spectators to keep at least 500 yards away from the whales, as required by federal law.

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. While it is common for the mothers and calves to swim close to shore for these baleen-type whales feed on tiny zooplankton, it is unusual for the whales to leave the open ocean and enter estuaries through inlets.

Clipper and her calf head east along the fishing pier at Sebastian Inlet on their way back to open ocean on Feb. 9, 2016. Photo credit: FWC

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.

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