BOSTON (CBS) — Researchers fear the endangered North Atlantic right whale could become extinct sooner rather than later, but every winter offers new hope for the sea creatures as they birth their calves. On Thursday, Harmonia, an 18-year-old right whale which the New England Aquarium found to be pregnant back in August 2019, was seen swimming with her newborn calf near Cumberland Island, Georgia, according to the aquarium.
A Florida wildlife conservation survey team spotted the two whales from above during a routine survey, signalling a more optimistic future for the whales, the aquarium said. Right now, they said, the right whale population is around 411.
“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,” said Philip Hamilton, a research scientist at the New England Aquarium. “The future of this species rests on the backs of dependable reproductive females like her.”
The aquarium said it has been studying North Atlantic right whales for 40 years, and Harmonia is very familiar to them. She was born in 2001 to parents Aphrodite and Velcro, who are both believed to still be alive.
Harmonia previously gave birth to two calves, one in 2009 and one in 2016, according to the aquarium. Her first calf was hit by a boat and killed during the summer of 2010, just after its first birthday. Her second calf, named Gully, is still alive, but is severely wounded after becoming entangled in fishing gear– a big threat to right whales.
Over the years, Harmonia has become invaluable to right whale research, the aquarium said, which helps researchers protect her species.