"Devastating" Losses for Right Whales This Winter

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Scientists photograph right whales from boats and small airplanes. They also track the whales' DNA by obtaining small skin biopsy samples from each whale. From these samples, researchers can learn the paternity of calves.

The information is used to develop a genetic profile of each right whale as well as a family tree for the population.

Human-Induced Mortality

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plane spotted Bolo's lifeless body floating 78 miles (126 kilometers) east of Nantucket Island, located off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Researchers say Bolo was more than 23 years old, because they first saw her when she had calved in 1981. She gave birth at least six times, the last known time in 2001.

How Bolo died is still unknown, but it is possible that a ship struck her. Ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear now make up 50 percent of known right whale deaths.

"The habitat they live in is extremely busy with human activities. That is why we are calling this the urban whale," Brown said. "[It is] whale that is exposed to all of the marine activity along the East Coast, as well as exposure to all of the contaminants that humans dump in the water."

Reason to Cheer

There is some good news, however.

Calvin—a right whale that was orphaned at age 8 months in 1992, when her mother was hit by a ship in the Bay of Fundy—recently gave birth to her first calf.

Brown, who named Calvin back in 1992 before she knew the whale was a female, says the name stuck, "because she was a precocious little whale." Brown now hopes that aggressive efforts will be taken to protect North Atlantic right whales.

"We have been successful in moving the shipping lanes away from the main concentration of right whales in Fundy, which is where Calvin's mother was killed. But there remains much more work to be done with shipping interests in the United States," Brown said.

"If one good thing can come out of all these whale deaths, it would be the speedy implementation of conservation measures throughout their range to reduce the impact of human activities on this population," she said.

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