Provincetown, MA –The Center for Coastal Studies Right Whale Ecology Program’s 2022-2023 field season started in mid-December and so far the team has identified 29 of these critically-endangered whales in Cape Cod Bay. The season started early, and if it progresses as usual, it’s likely that the majority of the entire population will have visited Cape Cod waters by the beginning of May, which the CCS research team will document.
“Every year one of the rarest animals on the planet can be viewed right from our beaches, and although few people have seen them, here on Cape Cod we get a front row seat.” said Stormy Mayo, Director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at CCS.
North Atlantic right whales visit Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bays, and other nearby waters, each winter and early spring to feed on swarms of rich microscopic plankton. Last year between January and May, CCS researchers identified 273 individual right whales, more than 80 percent of the estimated 340 individuals left in the world.
Between January and mid-May, members of the CCS right whale team, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, conduct aerial and vessel surveys over Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bays, identifying individual whales from photographs and documenting the whales’ location, behavior, health, and the quality of their food resource. The information is shared with the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium and made available to scientists worldwide. CCS Flight Coordinator Amy James said, “The number of individuals already identified is pretty typical for this time of year, however, what is atypical is their behavior. We’re seeing shallow sub-surface and skim feeding whales which brings them closer to the surface and increases risks to mariners.” Right whales can be cryptic and difficult to spot especially when feeding just below the surface.
Members of the public are reminded that it is illegal for watercraft or aircraft of any kind to approach within 500 yards (1,500 feet) of a North Atlantic right whale without a federal research permit.
Boaters are asked to help keep whales safe by adhering to the seasonal speed limits in Cape Cod Bay: Vessels 65 feet or more are REQUIRED to travel at 10 knots or less during the period of January 1st and May 15th. Vessels smaller than 65 feet are STRONGLY ENCOURAGED to travel at 10 knots or less, and REQUIRED to do so in Cape Cod Bay during the period of March 1st and April 30th
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 other foundations, businesses and CCS supporters.