Beach-goers in Florida have been warned to give right whales their space, urged to keep a 500-yard distance from the mammals or face fines. Right whales are endangered so federal officials are working hard to protect their numbers.

Around the world, there are just about 450 to 500 right whales. This year, 17 calves were born so eyes are on the whale population making its way along Southeastern Florida to migrate. A lot can happen along the way so federal officials have turned to reminding the public to stay away from right whales to help ensure their safe trip.

To make their point clear, federal officials flew a banner between Cape Canaveral and Sebastian Inlet saying "Stay 500 yards away from right whales - it's the law!" The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have turned to airplane banners before and the agency is hoping this would deter spring-breakers from coming close to right whales.

The 500-yard rule is applied to both aircraft and watercraft, including those non-motorized like surfboards and paddleboards. Violators are looking at fines running into thousands of dollars.

Calving season for right whales start in the middle of November, extending through mid-April. To give birth, the whales will swim down to the Atlantic coast. Pregnant whales will swim over 1,000 miles from New England and Canada where they feed to the waters of northeastern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Right whales earned their name because they were called by early whalers as the "right" whales to catch as they swim close to shore and slowly, float when dead and yield high amounts of baleen and oil. They also often swim close to the top of the water so they are easy to spot.

The Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species Acts in the United States protect right whales. To lessen risks of collisions between watercraft and the whales, the law requires that boats longer than 65 feet have to stick to speeds of no more than 10 knots when they are in Seasonal Management Areas in the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. This also includes spots for calving and nurseries in southeastern portions of the country.

In an effort to better understand migratory routes for right whales, the NOAA is working with researchers from Florida and Alaska to develop tracking methods for the whales. So far, three right whales have been tagged. The researchers are allowed to get close to right whales despite the ban because they have been federally permitted to do so.

Photo: NOAA Photo Library | Flickr

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