The right whale aerial survey team from the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) observed nine right whales in Cape Cod Bay yesterday (February 21), marking the true beginning of the 2016 right whale season. CCS researchers have spotted individual right whales scattered throughout Cape Cod Bay since late November 2015, but numbers have increased dramatically in the last week.
Right whales, one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals, congregate in Cape Cod Bay every year to feed on rich blooms of zooplankton. In the last six years, on average approximately one-half of the global population of 526 animals have been seen in the Bay annually.
With support from the Division of Marine Fisheries and the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, the Center’s right whale research team will continue survey the Bay by air and by sea to assure the protection of the animals while they are in the area.
Cape Cod Bay, which is a designated Critical Habitat for right whales, has become a laboratory of sorts for right whale researchers in the Northeast, and this spring the Coastal Studies team expects to be joined by scientists from several other institutions. All vessels with a Federal Research Permit will fly a distinctive yellow flag emblazoned with the letters R/V – mariners are asked to steer clear of these vessels whenever possible.
Boaters, kayakers, paddle-boarders, swimmers and light aircraft pilots are also reminded that it is illegal to approach a North Atlantic right within 500 yards (1500 feet) without a Federal Research Permit.
But whale watchers need not despair; if the 2016 season follows the same pattern as previous years, CCS scientists expect the numbers of right whales in the Bay to increase over the next two months.
Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, Director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at CCS, encourages beach walkers to keep a close eye on the water. “The upcoming months will offer some terrific opportunities to see these whales from the shores of Cape Cod,” said Mayo. “The right whales often feed very close to shore, offering whale watchers on land an unbeatable view of one of the rarest of the marine mammals.”