We often think of ocean pollution and whaling boats as some of the biggest threats to the planet’s whale populations, but the secret to saving these gentle giants might be found high above the waves.
The South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA) has pledged up to $200,000 per year for a total of five years to increase the EcoHealth Alliance’s aerial surveys for the protection of endangered right whales off the state’s coast.
Aerial surveys provide valuable information to wildlife conservationists and researchers, including location and photo-identification of right whales during their winter calving season off the Southeastern coast of the U.S.
“Right whale populations were nearly hunted to extinction by whalers long ago, and they’ve been fighting their way back from the brink ever since,” said Dr. Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance. “With fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales alive today, EcoHealth Alliance’s Aquatic Conservation Program is a key factor in ensuring the ongoing viability of this beautiful, critically endangered mammal.”
North Atlantic right whales migrate from November through April to give birth to their calves off of the Southeast coast, which is the only known calving ground for the species. Aerial surveys give researchers a bird’s eye view of whales in relation to the heavily trafficked coastline navigated by cargo, military, and recreational boats.
“During our aerial surveys, we document the births of new calves, record sightings of returning whales, and alert shipping officials about the whereabouts of these slow moving mammals, to help keep them out of harm’s way,” said Cynthia R. Taylor, associate vice president of the Aquatic Conservation Program at EcoHealth Alliance. “The biggest threats to right whales are from ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear, so we immediately alert rescue crews when we see whales that are in trouble.”
Flights are conducted an average of two days a week during the best weather conditions; the team logged an average of 600 hours of flight time at the conclusion of the calving season in April 2010.
TAKE ACTION: Protect The North Atlantic Right Whales
Image: One of fewer than 500 living North Atlantic right whales and her calf. Charleston, S.C., EcoHealth Alliance. (PRNewsFoto/EcoHealth Alliance)