Estimated calf and perinatal mortality in western North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis)



Reduced reproductive success has contributed to lack of recovery of the endangered western North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). Here we examined the specific life history period from just before birth through the first year to estimate calf and perinatal losses between 1989 and 2003. The lower bound estimate (17 mortalities from 208 calving events) included documented calf mortalities and presumed deaths from serious injury or disappearance from the sighting record. The upper bound estimated potential calf losses from females with delayed first parturition (>10 yr) and shortened (2 yr) or lengthened (≥4 yr) calving intervals, if the female migrated to the calving ground during these intervals. Because cows were sighted in the calving ground predominantly in years when they were available to calve, adult females sighted there in a possible calving year without a calf were assumed to have experienced a perinatal loss. Twenty-eight potential perinatal losses were detected, bringing the upper bound of calf and perinatal mortality to 45 (3.0 calves/yr). The high frequency of lengthened calving intervals in E. glacialis suggests that abortion and neonatal losses are contributing to lower reproductive success compared to Southern Hemisphere right whales (Eubalaena australis).