Only about 450 Northern right whales are known to exist, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. File/New England Aquarium/AP

Rare whales calving off SC whisper to their babies

Rare right whales talk to each other in sonorous whoops that travel for miles, but they talk to their young calves in whispers.

When the calves are alongside, the mothers tone down their distinctive call to a short grunt that can’t be heard very far off, researchers at Duke and Syracuse universities recently determined.

That insight isn’t a warm and fuzzy. The mammoths of the North Atlantic — now moving into water off South Carolina to calve — are on the knife edge of extinction, with so few females remaining that some environmentalists believe the species might already be doomed.

The calls aren’t love coos.

The grunts “can be thought of almost like a human whisper. They allow the mother and calf to stay in touch with each other without advertising their presence to potential predators in the area,” said conservation professor Susan Park, of Syracuse University, who led the study.

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