There are 340 North Atlantic right whales left. A small underwater robot could save them

Like a dance, a right whale calf twirls and loops around its mother, nearly touching her with every graceful glide as the two take on the sea as though they’re the only ones in it.

“Frolicking, snuggling, swimming around,” said Catherine Edwards, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, University of Georgia, professor as she plays the heartwarming video of the two.

Continuing to flit by its mother, the calf flapped a fin against her and sprayed water everywhere as it exhaled. The young right whale, scientists named Smoke, has “no idea about what it’s about to get into,” Edwards continued.

It’s a life spent in peril. One where the mammals leaving their summer homes in New England for their winter stays off the coasts of Florida and the Carolinas for their calving grounds, are susceptible to boat strikes and entanglement. The bustling ports of Savannah and Charleston pose threats to the migrating right whales, a place where large ships are cautioned to slow at the sight of these gentle giants but don’t always comply.

The stark reality of these threats is grim. In recent years, the North Atlantic right whale population has dwindled to 340.

Similar baleen whales, such as the Southern right whale, have bounced back since whaling stopped, said Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, co-researcher and assistant professor at the University of South Carolina. But the North Atlantic right whale population has never “bounced back,” she added, because “they’re constantly facing human threats.”

For Edwards