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South Atlantic coast on watch for pregnant whales

Associated Press Modified: November 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm •  Published: November 13, 2012

"For this area and this time of season, that far in shore, it would've been a right whale," said Briand, who saw enough of the whale above the surface to estimate its length at about 25 feet.

Whale experts suspect the reason for so few births last year — and why this season may be similar — may be a food shortage in the Bay of Fundy off Nova Scotia. Right whales commonly spend their summers there feeding on tiny zooplankton, but few were spotted in the area in the summers of 2010 and 2011.

Zoodsma said if researchers are correct in linking low births last season to a 2010 food shortage, and few right whales were spotted feeding in the bay last year, that could mean another lean year for newborns.

"It's definitely a cause for concern," Zoodsma said. "I'm not sure what we can do about it, but it certainly doesn't advance recovery of the species."

Clay George, who heads the right whale monitoring program for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said he's not giving up hope that births will make a comeback this winter.

Female right whales only give birth every three years. Fewer calves born last winter means the pool of potential mothers is greater this season.

"I'm optimistic because one upshot to a low calving year is that the following year there are that many more females available to calve," George said.