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Endangered right whale population may have grown

April 8, 2009 |  7:15 am

Right whale and calf

Marine biologists are cautiously optimistic that the North Atlantic right whale population has increased for the second consecutive season.

Aerial and on-the-water surveys sighted almost 200 of the endangered mammals, including 39 mothers with calves. This is an increase from the 150 noted during last year's survey.

Conducted by conservation partners including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationWildlife Trust and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the results are a hopeful indication of continued population growth for the whales.

Each winter, the whales migrate to waters off the coast of Florida and Georgia, where the females give birth.

Unfortunately, this season also set another record, with the number of right whales documented as being entangled in commercial fishing gear up to an all-time high of five. Only four of those whales were successfully freed from the potentially life-threatening lines.

There are only about 400 North Atlantic right whales in existence. Entanglement in commercial fishing gear and ship collisions are the most common human causes of serious injury and death for these animals.

Here's hoping that the numbers don't lie and that conservation efforts are helping this magnificent creature come back from the brink of extinction.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / NOAA