The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is a federally-protected endangered species under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Less than 400 of these right whales exist today. Recovery has been steady but slow for various reasons including a slow reproduction rate, and threats from entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with large ships. Mitigation efforts have been finalized and a new Critical Habitat Area has been designated to help protect these whales in their calving grounds off the coasts of northeast Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
Right whales are slow moving and especially when a mother is accompanied by a calf. They are difficult to see even close to the surface because their profile features a broad, flat back and no dorsal fin. These factors make them vulnerable to ship strikes and especially in areas of high vessel traffic. The winter calving grounds off the coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina includes four major shipping ports which increases the potential for accidental ship strikes from November through March. The Right Whale Early Warning System was created to alert commercial and military vessels about the presence of right whales. Sea to Shore Alliance and other organizations work closely with NOAA Fisheries to do aerial surveys to locate the right whales in the northern portion of their calving grounds. Right whale sightings are provided to military and commercial vessels, harbor pilots, port authorities, and other representatives of the maritime industry. The effort is helping to reduce the number of accidental ship strikes.
The right whales got their name from commercial fisherman who said they were the "right whale to kill" because they were such easy prey. Today, the right whale is the "right whale to save." We can all help by staying a minimum of 500 yards away from right whales in the water. This guideline is backed by federal law and it applies to all boaters, surfers, swimmers and anyone else that encounters a right whale.
Right Whale Festival