Aquarium confirms identity of endangered veteran right whale mother, Slalom, spotted off SC coast with her sixth calf
39-year-old mother has long history of resilience
Photo credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI) and USACE under NOAA permit #20556-01.
BOSTON, MASS. (Dec. 2, 2021) – Off the South Carolina coast, there was a welcome sight when researchers recently spotted Slalom, a 39-year-old veteran North Atlantic right whale mother of five previous calves, as she swam with her latest offspring, 11 years after she last gave birth.
With the number of critically endangered right whales down to an alarming estimate of 336, this news from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI) and Florida wildlife officials on Nov. 24 is encouraging. Researchers sighted the whale and her calf east of Pawleys Island, S.C. The New England Aquarium’s Right Whale Research team provided confirmation of Slalom’s (Catalog #1245) identity and her remarkable life story based on its extensive Right Whale Catalog.
Born in 1982 to Wart (Catalog #1140), Slalom’s story is one of survival and remarkable resilience. Slalom has lived through six fishing gear entanglements. Her offspring and grandchildren have endured 17 entanglements plus two vessel strikes. One of Slalom’s most renowned calves, Mogul, swam to Iceland one year and to France and Newfoundland the next year. Slalom has at least four grand-offspring from her daughter, Insignia, and two of the four likely died within their first year or two of life. Her grandson, Junction, has two sets of propeller wounds on his back.
“Slalom and her family are poster children for the issues that right whales face, but sadly, every family has such stories of harm done at the hands of humans,” said Philip Hamilton, Senior Scientist with the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life. He also manages the Aquarium’s Right Whale Catalog and carefully follows individual whale stories.
Slalom has six siblings including her brother, Shackleton, who swam more than 100 miles up the Delaware River when he was 11 months old. Her youngest sister, Pilgrim, was born in or around Cape Cod Bay in January 2013. Both are extremely rare occurrences for right whales. Slalom’s mother, Wart, “has the distinction of being the only known right whale to give birth in northern waters in the winter,” Hamilton said. “Her brother has the distinction of having swum the farthest up a river, and her son has the distinction of swimming more than 11,000 miles in a year. We hope this calf survives the many perils that right whales face on a daily basis and develops an interesting story of its own.”
Slalom was seen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this past summer and spotted again south of Nantucket by the Aquarium’s aerial survey team in October. In the past several years, Aquarium researchers have documented an increased use of southern New England waters by right whales, some traveling south to their calving grounds off Georgia and Florida. Slalom marks the third time a mother and calf have been spotted off South Carolina this November. The other two were seen opportunistically by recreational mariners, and the images are under review. One of these sightings was on Nov. 10, but the video is too distant to determine whether it was Slalom and her calf or another mother.
For more than 40 years, the Aquarium’s right whale team has extensively researched and tracked the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. In collaboration with an extensive network of individuals and research organizations along the eastern seaboard, our scientists curate the North Atlantic Right Whale Photo-identification Catalog. Understanding this species helps the team develop and implement solutions to reduce the threats of vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglements.
Pam Bechtold Snyder – email@example.com, 617-686-5068