Wednesday, January 5, 2011

There's more to right whale reproduction

Despite the right whale's protection from hunting since 1935 and continued efforts to decrease mortality due to ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements, the population remains in danger. In response, right whale researchers at the New England Aquarium are doubling their efforts to understand the causes and possible solutions to the right whale's decreasing reproductive success.

Photo credit: Kara Mahoney Robinson / New England Aquarium

Recently, researchers published their findings in two articles in the scientific journal Marine Mammal Science. One of the publications looked at the time just before birth through the first year of life to estimate perinatal (time just before or immediately after birth) and calf losses. They discovered that mortality for this time period may be underestimated by nearly 20 percent!

The other paper showed an increase in mother/calf association times. An increasing number of these pairs are returning to the southeast birthing ground a year after birth. The reasons are unknown and could have implications for right whale social behavior and reproductive rates.

Stay up on the latest right whale research with the Right Whale Blog. For example, this winter you can follow scientists out to the Jordan Basin off Maine's chilly coastline in search of the right whale mating grounds! A joint international research team is braving cold, wintry weather and shorter days to collect photographs of right whales for individual identification, scarring and health assessment as well as skin biopsy samples for ongoing genetics studies, and fecal samples for studies on reproductive hormones.

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