NOAA Fisheries reminds boaters and fishermen right whales are on the move through the waters off the coast of Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia from mid-November through mid-April during calving season for the endangered species.
Scientists estimate there are as few as 400 right whales, left making them one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. Each winter pregnant right whales head south, more than 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds off Canada and New England to the warm coastal waters of Georgia and northeastern Florida to give birth and nurse their young. These southern waters are the only known calving area for the species.
"Right whales are dark with no dorsal fin and they often swim slowly at or just below the water's surface," said Barb Zoodsma, NOAA Fisheries' southeast right whale recovery program coordinator. "Many assume that due to their size right whales would be easy to see, but just a slight difference in the texture on the water's surface is often the only clue that a whale is present."
North Atlantic right whales are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. To reduce the risk of collisions between right whales and boats, federal law requires vessels 65 feet long and greater to slow to 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, including the calving and nursery area in the southeastern U.S.
Speed restrictions are in place in various areas along the mid-Atlantic from Nov. 1 through April 30, and in the southeast U.S. calving area from Nov.15 through April 15. For more information on seasonal ship speed restrictions, visit nmfs.noaa.gov.
Federal law also prohibits approaching or remaining within 500 yards of right whales either by watercraft or by aircraft. NOAA and its partners use planes to fly over coastal waters from December through March. The information from these aerial surveys is used to alert boaters of the presence of right whales, allowing ships to alter their course to avoid potential collisions with the whales.
NOAA Fisheries encourages people to report sightings of dead, injured, or entangled whales to NOAA at 1-877-WHALE-HELP or 877-433-8299.