According to the New England Aquarium, Harmonia, a storied and well-studied right whale, was seen with her newborn calf off Cumberland Island, an area protected by U.S National Parks, on Thursday.
The aerial survey team from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission saw the pair just over seven miles from shore while doing their routine surveys of the right whale calving ground.
“This is optimistic news for the right whale population, which now stands at around 411, and the third calf spotted in the Southeast this season,” a release from the New England Aquarium reads.
“Every calf gives us hope, and seeing Harmonia, who we’ve watched grow from a calf to a healthy mom, with her third calf is particularly exciting.”
The aquarium says researchers collected a sample of Harmonia’s feces in the Gulf of St. Lawrence back in August, where she was sighted with two other whales. An analysis of her hormones indicated that she was pregnant.
They spotted her again off the coast of Florida on Nov. 23, exciting researchers with hopes that she had migrated to warmer waters to give birth. The aquarium says she was seen again on Dec. 10 off the coast of Georgia by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium aerial survey team.
The New England Aquarium has been studying Harmonia for years. She was born in 2001 to parents, Aphrodite and Velcro, who are both thought to still be alive. She has at least six half-brothers and two half-sisters, according to the aquarium, and previously gave birth to two calves – one in 2009 and another in 2016.
“Her first calf barely made it past its first year before being struck by a vessel and killed during the summer of 2010,” the aquarium stated.
“Harmonia’s second calf, ‘Gully,’ is still alive but was discovered in 2018 suffering another major threat to right whales – entanglement in fishing gear, leaving severe wounds and a deep gouge in its head.”
Since 2017, at least 29 North Atlantic right whales have died in U.S. and Canadian waters. Most of their deaths were a result of entanglements with fishing gear and collisions with ships.
Last month, an international conservation group announced the birth of the first North Atlantic right whale calf of the 2019-2020 calving season.
Oceana says that calf was also born off the coast of Georgia, near Sapelo Island.
As for Harmonia, the New England Aquarium says she’s been spotted in the Bay of Fundy many times, but not since 2011 due to “ocean changes brought on by climate change.”
Harmonia is one of the 130 or so right whales that have adapted to and now feed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where she has been seen every year since 2015.