“A remarkable sighting” – Center for Coastal Studies identifies Arctic bowhead whale in Cape Cod Bay

Friday, April 18, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Center for Coastal Studies contact:

Stormy Mayo
+1-508-237-9448

Cathrine Macort
+1-508-487-3622 x103
+1-508-808-9660
cmacort@coastalstudies.org

Bowhead whale feeding in Cape Cod Bay. CCS image under NOAA Permit #14603

Bowhead whale feeding
in Cape Cod Bay. CCS image under NOAA
Permit #14603

Researchers at the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) have observed a bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) in Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts. This is only the second time in recorded history that a bowhead has been seen so far south in the North Atlantic; the first time was in 2012, when CCS scientists spotted a bowhead off the Outer Beach in Orleans.

The bowhead was spotted by scientists from the Center’s Right Whale Research Program during an aerial survey on April 11, 2014. It was identified by the Center’s right whale identification specialist and flight coordinator Corey Accardo, who has worked extensively with both bowhead and right whales.

The bowhead was feeding with right whales when it was photographed. Like the right whale, the bowhead are slow-moving filter feeders that subsist largely on zooplankton such as the copepods that are abundant in Cape Cod Bay at this time of year.

Bowheads, which are related to the right whale, inhabit the Arctic Ocean and far northern reaches of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and are specifically adapted to life in the polar region.

They have very thick blubber that provides both insulation and energy storage, and can remain underwater for up to 35 minutes, swimming long distances beneath the Arctic pack ice and using their immense skull to push up through sea ice to create breathing holes. They are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“This is yet another remarkable sighting in what has been a remarkable several years in our studies of Cape Cod Bay” commented Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, Director of the Center for Coastal Studies Right Whale Research program. “Two years ago we saw our first bowhead, an animal that should be 1000 miles from Cape Cod, then last year we saw the first calving of a right whale in Cape Cod waters, and now we have a bowhead again here, this time feeding with right whales. These observations along with extraordinary number of rare right whales in Cape Cod Bay seem to be pointing to profound changes in the coastal habitat, to which the whales are responding.”

The aerial survey team will be flying over Cape Cod Bay again today.