March 27, 2016

Right whale #1233 with her 2016 calf photographed in Cape Cod Bay on Sunday, March 27. CCS image, NOAA permit #14603-1.

Right whale #1233 with her 2016 calf photographed in Cape Cod Bay on Sunday, March 27. CCS image, NOAA permit #14603-1.

On Easter Day, researchers from the Center for Coastal Studies right whale aerial survey team spotted their first right whale calf of the year in Cape Cod Bay. This sighting heralds the arrival of the 2016 calves to their feeding grounds here in the northeast.

The calf, which was born sometime shortly before January 24 in the calving grounds of the southeastern US, is the offspring of right whale #1233, a whale of at least 41 years of age that was first seen in August 1974 in Southern New England. This is #1233’s sixth known calf; she also gave birth in ’89, ’92, ’98, ’03 and ’09.

Right whales are identified by rough patches on their head called callosities; much like fingerprints, the pattern of callosities is unique to each whale. This makes it possible for researchers to track the movements of individual whales up and down the east coast.

During the sighting in Cape Cod Bay the mom was subsurface feeding and the calf appeared to be nursing. “We are very happy to see this pair looking well after their long migration north from the calving grounds” said Corey Accardo, Flight Coordinator for the Center’s Right Whale Ecology program.

According to colleagues at New England Aquarium, 17 known North Atlantic right whale calves were born in 2015, so more mom/calf pairs are expected to arrive in Cape Cod Bay over the next few weeks.

Boaters, kayakers, paddle-boarders, swimmers and light aircraft pilots are reminded that it is illegal to approach a North Atlantic right within 500 yards (1500 feet) without a Federal Research Permit. However, 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.

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, CCS aviation contractor New England Specialized Aviation Services, and contributions from CCS members.

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