Missing Whales return to Cape Cod Bay
Monday, January 7, 2014
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Monday, January 7, 2014
On Sunday afternoon a research team from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, flying a survey over Cape Cod Bay, spotted 12 rare and critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Although there have been reports of right whales in the Bay since the beginning of November, this sighting was the first of the season confirmed by the Center scientists.
The return of right whales to their usual winter feeding grounds lays to rest concerns that were raised earlier this year when it was reported that the whales were ‘missing’ from their usual summer feeding habitats in the Gulf of Maine.
“These are changing times” commented Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of the Right Whale Research Program at the Center. “It appears that the distribution of the whales is changing and that Cape Cod Bay is becoming an increasingly favored feeding location in the North Atlantic Ocean. The whales are arriving earlier and in greater numbers than we have seen before.”
Center scientists whose studies resulted in the federal designation of Cape Cod Bay as a critical habitat for the species have been studying the right whales in the bay since 1976. The Center’s aerial surveys, which take place weekly throughout the Dec – May season, have shown that on average one-half of the total estimated population of 510 North Atlantic right whales have congregated in the Bay each winter and spring during the last 4 years, drawn by dense concentrations of the zooplankton upon which they feed.
Working closely with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Protected Resources, the research teams from the Center for Coastal Studies will be on the water and in the air when weather allows, documenting the whales and collecting samples to determine the concentration and type of zooplankton currently in the Bay. Comparisons of these data with those from previous years should eventually allow Mayo and other Center scientists to document ongoing changes in the whales’ critically important habitat and their use of its rich food resources.
CCS right whale research and response operations are conducted in partnership with DMF and NOAA under federal permits issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Support also comes from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust and contributions from PCCS members.For more information about the Center’s work, please visit www.coastalstudies.org.