Endangered right whales return to Cape Town and island waters

The Investigator and the Mirror

(January 14, 2022) In the final days of 2021, a team of researchers from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown were on the water collecting zooplankton samples when they spotted the first North Atlantic right whale of the season in the bay. of Cape Cod.

Associate Scientist Christy Hudak and Aerial Observer Ryan Schosberg, both from the Center’s Right Whale Ecology Program, encountered the young whale off Wellfleet. He was later identified as EGNO’s 2019 calf 3317, a juvenile known to staff who had seen him several times over the past year.

Critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, one of the rarest of the great whales in the world, visit Cape Cod Bay each winter and spring to feed on rich blooms of microscopic zooplankton. Last year, Center for Coastal Studies researchers identified 244 individual whales in the bay and adjacent waters, more than two-thirds of the current population of just 336 animals.

“We know right whales are here most years in December, but we were very lucky to see one already feeding at this time of year. When they come in fall and winter, they tend to be much more cryptic, with long dive times,” Hudak said.

The arrival of the first North Atlantic right whale in the bay also kicks off the 2021–2022 Central Right Whale survey season, when right whales are typically found off Cape Town and the Atlantic. he is. Working with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, teams of researchers from the Center for Coastal Studies will conduct the survey by plane and boat to find and identify right whales.

Since 1998, the air crew has surveyed Cape Cod Bay annually, monitoring the presence and condition of visiting right whales. Scientists are also monitoring female right whales of reproductive age to see how many calves will be born this year. So far, 11 females have given birth this season in warmer waters off the coast of the southeastern United States and there are many more who could potentially be pregnant.

“It’s rare to see mom/calf pairs in northern waters until sometime in March, but that doesn’t stop us from looking forward to their arrival,” Schosberg said.

Members of the public are reminded that it is illegal for watercraft or aircraft of any type to approach within 500 meters of a North Atlantic right whale without a federal research permit.

Boaters are asked to help keep whales safe by observing seasonal speed limits in Cape Cod Bay. Vessels 65 feet or longer must sail at 10 knots or less. Vessels under 65 feet are strongly encouraged to sail at 10 knots or less in the bay, and required to do so during peak season between March 1 and April 30.

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