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    Endangered right whale spotted with calf off coast of Massachusetts

    Researchers were thrilled after spotting a North Atlantic right whale and her calf Sunday in the Great Southern Channel off Massachusetts.

    The new calf is a significant find for an endangered species, said Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown.

    “A right whale calving season is December though early February, and so far, we’ve only seen four new calves, and the most recent was [seen] just three weeks ago,” he said. “Now we have five.”

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    A new calf is always a welcome addition to a species that is “barely clinging to existence,” Mayo said.

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    Three or four years ago, the population was gradually increasing. Now that’s changed.The birth rate is not keeping up with the mortality rate. It’s simple arithmetic,” Mayo said.

    Almost as surprising as the calf was the reemergence of the mother, who had eluded scientists for so long they had assumed she was dead, researchers said.

    “Whale deaths are hard to track. If the animal dies in the open ocean, they’ll sink and you may never see them. Researchers have a threshold of about six years or so that, if an animal hasn’t been seen, we assume it’s either dead or living in an area that’s not being looked at by scientists. The mother of the fourth calf was like that, very rarely seen,” Mayo said.

    The sighting comes just two weeks after a juvenile right whale was killed by a ship strike in Barnstable and a month after voluntary speed restrictions were placed on the area to try and protect the animals.

    Andrew Grant can be reached at andrew.grant@globe.com.