CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Two North Atlantic right whales were spotted recently off of Kiawah Island, brining the number of sightings of the endangered animal in Lowcountry waters over the past year to 19.
JR McCroskey and his group of recreational fisherman saw the whales about 15 miles off of Kiawah Island on Christmas Eve.
The sighting was confirmed to WCBD News by The Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network (LMMN).
The group first saw the baby come up for air, and couldn’t quite make out what it was.
“I see what I thought was a piece of debris. As we got closer, I noticed some blowing going on kind of like dolphins do. I thought it might be a manatee,” said McCroskey.
When the mother whale surfaced, they realized what they were seeing.
“When a whale comes up that’s twice the size of the boat you’re in then you know exactly what you’re dealing with,” said McCroskey.
According to the LMMN, right whales are critically endangered, with less than 400 reported worldwide.
The most common dangers to right whales are boat propellers and fishing nets. Laws state that vessels must remain 500 yards away from them for protection.
“As soon as we got a picture of (the mother) and a video of her we pulled back and gave them the space they needed,” said McCroskey.
There are multiple documented incidents of whales being seriously injured after collisions with boats.
Given the dangers posed by humans, right whales tend to stay further offshore.
“While it’s not uncommon for right whales to be offshore this time of the year, it’s extremely rare to spot them because there are about 100 breeding females and they typically stay offshore,” said Lauren Rust, the founder of the LMMN. “Your chances of seeing them are greater offshore on a boat, but unlikely from shore.”
Rust says that the population is declining because there are very few breeding females and they can only reproduce once every three to four years.
“With approximately 100 breeding females, reproducing on different years, we see between zero and 25 new calves a year. But sadly, most years, more adults die than new calves are reproduced putting them in a negative decline,” said Rust. “I suspect we will see their extinction in our lifetime.”
McCroskey says that he wants to make sure people realize that right whales are living and calving in the waters from South Carolina to Florida until April.
“Just spreading the word out to the recreational fisherman that these whales are out there and you need to be conscientious because they can wreck a boat,” said McCroskey.