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north atlantic right whale

Stephan Savoia, File / Associated Press

Federal officials are considering the impacts on wildlife from looking for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean, including off Georgia’s coast. And they’re asking for public comment on the plan for the next 30 days.

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Sea to Shore Alliance, taken under NOAA permit #14388-02

It has not been a good year so far for North Atlantic right whales. The endangered animals have their calves off the coast of Georgia, and officials have seen only three calves so far.

In good years, back in the 2000s, wildlife biologist Clay George says there were 22 to 24 calves in a season, but there's been a downward trend over the past five years.

National Oceanic Atmospheric Association

More than 50 U.S. Congressmen are asking President Barack Obama not to allow oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of southern and mid-Atlantic states. The letter was signed by 55 Democrats and Republicans, including two Georgia Democrats, Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson.

Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (Resized) creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/ / flickr.com/photos/wildliferesourcesdivision/

This was not a banner calving season for North Atlantic right whales. The endangered whales migrate to Georgia and Florida and have their calves off the coast, but they had fewer than average this past winter.

The average number of calves born in a season is 20, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. This year, the agency counted 14 calves, and one of those died.

Numbers of calves were below average in other recent years, too, but it's too soon to be concerned, according to Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Clay George.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA Research Permit # 594-1759 / flickr.com/myfwc

The protected habitat for North Atlantic right whales, an endangered species that spends time off the coast of Georgia, will expand by more than six times its current area. The areas designated as critical habitat include feeding grounds in the Northeast and calving grounds in the Southeast.

The decision, made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, comes at the same time as the federal government is also considering allowing offshore oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic.