Critically endangered right whales have birthed more babies this season than they have in years, but still not enough to save the species.

The tail of a right whale, tangled in blue rope and fishing equipment
Caption
A right whale off Georgia's coast was seen entangled in fishing gear earlier this year. One such whale died of its injuries, and another has not been seen since it evaded rescue efforts.
Credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA research permit 18786

Critically endangered right whales are wrapping up a bittersweet calving season off the Georgia coast.

Scientists have spotted 17 right whale calves swimming with their moms this season, about the same as the last three seasons combined.

But one of the babies has already been struck and killed by a boat. An additional calf that apparently died during birth or shortly afterward washed ashore in North Carolina late last year. And an adult tangled in fishing gear was found dead last month.

Another entangled whale that evaded attempts to help it has not been seen since. That entanglement was considered severe enough to be life-threatening.

Clay George leads Georgia’s right whale tracking and conservation efforts.

“This season kind of serves as a, you know, kind of stark reminder that there are these human issues — vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing rope — that continue to hold the species back,” he said.

George said right whales need to have closer to two dozen calves for several years in a row to help the population recover.

Calves have been spotted from mid-November through mid-April, so additional sightings are still possible. Aerial surveys will continue through the end of March off the coasts of Georgia and Florida and into April off the coasts of the Carolinas.

Around 375 North Atlantic right whales remain in the world.