May 2011

For the last month, most of the data analysis that we have been working on has been matching individual right whales to the right whale catalog. As we have mentioned in the past, right whales are individually identified by the callosities on their heads. We have had many interesting individuals throughout the season, preliminary numbers indicate a minimum of 312 individuals visited Massachusetts waters between January and May, including eight mother/calf pairs. This season there were 21 calves documented in the southeast. Some of the mothers we encountered included Magic (born in 1982, 6 calves), Gannet (born in 1996, 3 calves), Porcia (first seen in 2002, 2 calves), Orion (born in 2002, 1 calf), Harmony (born in 2001, 2 calves), and Naevus (born in 1990, 4 calves). We also photographed EGNO 1980 (a male first seen in 1989). This whale has not been seen since 2008, at which point he was entangled. We were extremely happy to see this whale again, and to document that he is gear free. On our flight south of Nantucket, we saw EGNO 1151, Mavynne, another right whale that was successfully disentangled by the PCCS disentanglement team.

In addition to right whales, we have also documented numerous amounts of humpback whales and sei whales, several fin whales, as well as a mother/calf pair, many Atlantic white-sided dolphins, a number of minke whales, and a handful of harbor porpoises. Sei whales (pronounced “say”) look similar to fin whales, but are slightly smaller (40-50 feet). They are sometimes seen in conjunction with right whales because they often eat the same type of copepods, but they also eat small fish. However, it is atypical for us to see as many sei whales as we did this season in Cape Cod Bay and the adjacent waters. There were many days that we saw sei whales feeding with right whales. In addition, one day on our eastern survey we observed a mother and calf sei whale. The mother was feeding, and the calf was swimming alongside with its mouth open, as well.

We were also treated to observing a basking shark on one survey this past month. Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world, second only to the whale shark. Basking sharks are planktonic filter feeders. They filter plankton through their gills as water flows into their mouths. Basking sharks are not aggressive, and harmless to people. All this being said, we have observed seven different cetacean species over the course of our four and a half month season, as well as one species of shark!

Overall, we have had a successful season with great sightings. We have accounted for a large portion of the right whale population right here in our near shore waters and we look forward to figuring out the total percentage of the population as we finish working through this year’s data. We are also all extremely excited for the adjacent waters to be full of other species like the humpback and minke whales that are prevalent in this area during the summer months and sure to offer great sightings.