Rare North Atlantic right whales return to Cape Cod Bay

Right whales EgNo3401 (Tux) and EgNo1706, photographed in Cape Cod Bay by the CCS Aerial Survey team.
CCS image, NOAA permit 19315-1

Provincetown, MA – On Tuesday, January 16 the Center for Coastal Studies’ aerial survey team took off from Provincetown airport for the first right whale surveillance flight of the 2018 season; within hours they had spotted 14 of the critically endangered animals in Cape Cod Bay, and researchers aboard the Center’s research vessel Ibis identified at least one more.

North Atlantic right whales visit Cape Cod Bay to feed every winter. Typically only a handful of whales are seen during the first few weeks of the year, so this early influx was a welcome break from tradition for the Provincetown-based scientists.

“This is a terrific start to the season,” said Charles “Stormy” Mayo, Director of the Center’s Right Whale Ecology program. “Last year we identified 251 individuals in the Bay between December and May, so we’re excited to see how this year progresses.”

Researchers estimate that there are only about 450 North Atlantic right whales in existence. Last year 17 right whales were found dead in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the waters off Cape Cod, and only five new calves were recorded. If these trends of increased fatalities and low birth rates continue, scientists fear that the species may become extinct by the middle of this century.

Mayo and colleagues from several other research organizations are working with state and federal agencies to determine how best to manage and protect the remaining population.

Members of the public are reminded that it is illegal for watercraft or aircraft of any kind to approach within 500 yards (1500 feet) of a North Atlantic right whale without a Federal Research Permit.

CCS right whale research and response operations are conducted in partnership with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and NOAA under federal permits issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Support also comes from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, and contributions from CCS members.