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 wh
|Contact: Shelley Dawicki|
NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center