It has not been a good year for the right whales that ply the waters of the US Northeast and the Canadian Maritimes. As the Atlantic warms, the right whales have been following their feed schools into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a busy shipping lane, where there are not yet rules to help protect the leviathans from fast moving ships. There have been many ship strikes and many whales killed. So, it is good news that more and more right whales are appearing in Cape Cod Bay, where they spawn. Sailors who make the passage north to Maine in summer know that if you shape your course near Stellwagon Bank off Provincetown, MA, you have a fair chance of seeing a few right whales doing their thing. Here’s a report from NOAA on the research that is being done to help protect these gentle giants.
Right whales are congregating in Cape Cod Bay, much like they have in years past, but in greater numbers and earlier in the season. Researchers at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) are on and over the water, using boats and aircraft to track the animals during their time in the region. They also listen for the presence of whales using underwater recording units in place throughout the year.
Much of the work is conducted by marine mammal researchers in the Center’s Protected Species Branch at the Woods Hole Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. With right whales already feeding in Cape Cod Bay, six day trips have been made in the past month or so, despite the relentless winter weather. Researchers work from the deck of a 24-foot boat, photographing individual whales for identification and health assessments. Researchers also aim to take small tissue samples from a long list of individual whales that have never been sampled for genetic studies. Read more.