While their behaviour is not fully understood, Ms Crocetti believes that they may be expectant mothers looking for other whales to join for safety in calving, which is common in the healthier west coast population.
This is why the scientists were so delighted to see not one, but two mothers with calves in Jervis Bay on Wednesday this week.
The images were captured by a drone operator who is part of a new network of volunteers trained in both animal protection and civil aviation regulations who are helping to identify each whale that visits NSW in a program managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Right whales are born with distinctive hardened skin patterns known as callosities on their heads by which they can be individually identified.
“What we need, to know which is which, are perfect head shots taken from above,” explains Ms Crocetti.
The 20 volunteers up and down the NSW coast can now be dispatched whenever a right whale is seen close to shore.
One of the two whales spotted in Jervis Bay had visited the central coast for some days earlier this month. The other was new to the scientists.
When the species’ numbers were healthy, it is thought that mothers returned to specific sites to calve every three or four years. It is hoped that the so-called Right Whale ID Program might help identify such sites in NSW so that the mothers can be better protected.
Ms Crocetti said the footage was not only evidence that the ID program, which is being piloted this year, can work, but moving in its own right.
“To see two mothers and two calves together, completely undisturbed, doing what they were born to do, it was just breathtaking.”
NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said the footage showed the program was a success. “The more we learn about these precious, majestic and endangered animals the better we can plan to protect them,” he said.
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