Navigation Links
Are North Atlantic right whales mating in the Gulf of Maine?

Using data obtained during six years of regular aerial surveys and genetics data collected by a consortium of research groups, scientists have strengthened evidence pointing to the central Gulf of Maine as a mating ground for North Atlantic right whales, according to a study recently published online in the journal Endangered Species Research.

The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is one of the most endangered marine mammal species in the world and has been intensively studied for decades. Much has been learned about its habitat, behavior, and population demographics. But until now, there was little to indicate where these whales mated, a big missing piece in the puzzle of their life history.

"A high proportion of potential mates aggregated in the central Gulf of Maine between November and January, and these same individuals produced a calf a year later. We concluded that this is a pretty strong indication of a mating ground if the gestation period is 12 months," said Tim Cole, lead author and a biologist at the Woods Hole Laboratory of NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC).

Through aerial surveys, the researchers documented not only how many but also which right whales were present in the study area during 2002-2008. Individual animals were identified using a photo identification catalog maintained at the New England Aquarium that includes most of the adults in the population. Using genetic data gathered in other field work, known fathers seen in the surveys were identified, as were known mothers, who were identified by association with a calf.

The resulting analyses showed that the animals seen included a higher proportion of reproductively successful animals than were present in other areas that these whales used seasonally. The researchers further assumed a 12-month gestation period for North Atlantic right whales, similar to that estimated for the closely-related southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) by the South African whale biologist Dr. Peter Best.

How definitive is the study? Cole says that while it's a strong indicator, there could well be other mating areas, and its not clear how fixed the areas might be. In fact, since the study ended, fewer right whales have been observed in the area during what would be the mating period. The study also found a similar, if less dramatic, indication that Roseway Basin - an area south of Nova Scotia - may also serve as a mating ground.

"We are still seeing right whales in the central Gulf of Maine, just not in the same numbers. They are still out there, but where they all are in the big question. The decline is significant, so something appears to have changed," Cole said. "The good news is that calf production has been fairly good, with 22 calves born in 2011, 7 in 2012, and 20 this past winter. It will be interesting to see how many calves are born next year."

Most of the North Atlantic right whale population spends the spring and summer on feeding grounds off the northeastern U.S. and the Canadian Maritimes. In late fall and early winter, pregnant females migrate to waters off the southeastern U.S. to give birth. Mothers and calves are detected during intensive aerial surveys conducted from December through March off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Mothers and calves return to the northeast feeding grounds in the early spring, and the calves stay with their mothers for a year following birth.

Recovery of this endangered species depends on successful reproduction, but current reproductive rates for North Atlantic right whales are much lower than those for the recovering populations of southern right whales. The reasons for this are unknown, but may include a low level of genetic variability and /or inbreeding, disease, biotoxins, pollutants, food supply limitations, and habitat loss. Increased ocean noise from coastal development could also impact the species by triggering behavioral changes that negatively impact reproduction. Determining the right whale's conception period and mating grounds are important steps in learning about the factors that may be impairing reproduction.


Contact: Shelley Dawicki
NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Related biology news :

1. Unexpected crustacean diversity discovered in northern freshwater ecosystems
2. Common North American frog identified as carrier of deadly amphibian disease
3. Study reveals how monarch butterflies recolonize northern breeding range
4. Loss of predators in Northern Hemisphere affecting ecosystem health
5. GSA North-Central Section Meeting: Change through Time
6. Researchers across North America team up to find genetic markers for autism
7. Center for North Sea oil expertise set to boost jobs and growth
8. Grants add to Northwestern-Qatar partnership
9. University of North Texas Health Science Center Advances Forensic Research by Investing in Semiconductor DNA Sequencing Technology
10. UCSB scientists compile first study of potential for tsunamis in northwestern California
11. Seabirds study shows plastic pollution reaching surprising levels off coast of Pacific Northwest
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/26/2015)... -- Research and Markets ( ) has announced ... Technology and Patent Infringement Risk Analysis" report to ... --> Fingerprint sensors using capacitive technology represent a ... vendor Idex forecasts an increase of 360% of the ... of the fingerprint sensor market between 2014 and 2017 ...
(Date:11/20/2015)... 2015 NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or ... growing mobile commerce market and creator of the Wocket® ... was recently interviewed on The RedChip Money Report ... weekend on Bloomberg Europe , Bloomberg Asia, Bloomberg ... NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or the "Company"), a biometric ...
(Date:11/19/2015)... , Nov. 19, 2015  Based on its in-depth ... Sullivan recognizes BIO-key with the 2015 Global Frost & ... Frost & Sullivan presents this award to the company ... to the needs of the market it serves. The ... meets and expands on customer base demands, the overall ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/26/2015)... , England , November 26, 2015 ... Lightpoint Medical, an innovative medical device company specializing in imaging ... grant from the European Commission as part of the Horizon ... the company to carry out a large-scale clinical trial in ... -->      (Logo: , --> ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... 2015 --> ... - 2020 report analyzes that automating biobanking workflow ... in long-term samples, minimizing manual errors, improving the ... manual errors such as mislabeling or inaccurate sample ... plays a vital role in blood fractionation, DNA ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... -- PharmAthene, Inc. (NYSE MKT: PIP) announced  today that its ... (Rights Plan) in an effort to preserve the value ... 382 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code). ... its NOLs could be substantially limited if the Company ... of the Code. In general, an ownership change occurs ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... , November 25, 2015 2 ... première fois les différences entre les souches bactériennes ... celles des êtres humains . Ces recherches ... et envisager la prise en charge efficace de ... diagnostiqués chez les chats .    --> ...
Breaking Biology Technology: