The endangered North Atlantic right whale population is experiencing its best calving season since 2013. As of last week, 18 newborn whales have been spotted, in a season that began in November and could continue through this month.
Philip Hamilton is a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium who administers a data base that tracks all observations of the whales surviving on the planet, currently estimated to be around 350 animals. He says that a cohort of females born about 10 years ago are coming to child-bearing age.
"It may also be that it's an indication that they are finally adapting to a very different feeding regime," he says.
Over the last decade the whales have been seen less in traditional feeding grounds in the Bay of Fundy, but observed pursuing prey instead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Cape Cod Bay. Hamilton says the recent births are good news, but the whales are still imperiled: two of those new calves have died, one by natural causes and one by ship-strike.
An adult whale was also found dead off South Carolina, due to "chronic entanglement" by fishing gear.
Federal regulators are expected to issue new rules by summer for lobstermen and other fishermen aiming to reduce the amount of gear-rope in the water that can entangle and kill the whales.
The story originally appeared on Maine Public Radio.