Friday, July 15, 2011

Whales of the Florida & Georgia Coast

North Atlantic Right Whale
Photo: NOAA
For longer than man has walked the beaches of the Atlantic coast of Florida and Georgia, the North Atlantic Right Whale has spawned in the waters offshore.

A magnificent whale that is one of the rarest marine mammals on the face of the earth, the right whale grows to an average length of 50 feet and can weigh as much as 140,000 pounds. The name comes from the fact that it was once considered the "right" whale for hunting by whaling ships, as its blubber produced high quality whale oil.

Before kerosene was developed from coal in 1846 and the refining of petroleum products began on a large scale in the decades after the Civil War, whale oil was one of the most important fuels used in America. Not only was it used to fuel lamps, but it was also a primary ingredient for making candle wax. It was also used in paint, margarine and other products.

Atlantic Coast of Florida
In fact, the demand for whale oil ignited the massive whaling industry of the 1800s and led to the over-hunting of the species, which in turn led to their decline. As the whale population dwindled, America experienced its first great energy crisis. Prices soared and hunting became so lucrative that species like the North Atlantic Right Whale were almost driven into extinction.

Somewhat ironically, considering the today's global warming debate, it was the introduction of petroleum-based fuels that saved the whales from completely disappearing. Fossil fuels provided a new and cheap source of energy that eliminated America's hunger for whale oil.

Informational Sign on Whales in Florida
Today, only 300-400 North Atlantic Right Whales remain on the face of the earth. They come each December to a small section of ocean along the Florida & Georgia coast to give birth to their young. Thanks to the protection of these spawning grounds and cooperative efforts between marine biologists, shipping companies, fishermen and others to protect the whales from accidental injury or death during their annual migrations, the species is slowly showing signs of recovery.

The number of whales born each year in the waters that stretch from St. Simons Island, Georgia, south to Cape Canaveral, Florida, is growing and there is hope that somewhere in the distant future, the North Atlantic Right Whale will again become a thriving species.

To learn more about these remarkable creatures, please visit

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