On Tuesday, December 11 the Center for Coastal Studies’ aerial surveillance team spotted seven critically endangered North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod Bay, the first confirmed sighting of the species in the Bay this season.
Among the whales photographed during the survey flight were individuals identified by natural markings as Arpeggio, Marble, and Meridian, whales that have visited Cape Cod Bay in the past.
One of the rarest of the world’s large mammals, North Atlantic right whales visit Cape Cod Bay every winter and spring to feed on rich blooms of microscopic zooplankton. Starting in January each year since 1998, CCS has surveyed Cape Cod waters in collaboration with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. This year, with special funding from several foundations, local businesses and individuals, CCS started its aerial and boat surveys in late November.
Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, Senior Scientist at CCS said “With today’s sighting we now know that whales enter the area earlier than previously thought, information important to the effort to protect the species.”
CCS researchers identified 246 individual whales in Cape Cod Bay between January and May 2018, more than half of the estimated 411 whales in the population. No new calves were recorded in 2018 and only five were spotted in 2017, while three dead right whales have been found over the last year, down from 17 in 2017. The most common causes of death for those whales were entanglement and ship strike.
The dramatic decrease in the right whale population resulting from the low birth rate and high mortality prompted CCS to expand the aerial survey area to encompass the recently designated right whale Critical Habitat on Jeffreys Ledge (off the coast of Massachusetts and New Hampshire), and extend the survey season by two months, from November through June. This increased effort – the Right Whale Emergency Initiative – will improve the capacity for CCS to find and free entangled right whales and will expand the ability of federal and state agencies to protect the remnant population. Real-time sighting reports from the survey team will also allow managers to take swift action to regulate fishing and shipping activities in areas not previously known to be frequented by the right whales.
“With very low and declining population the future of the right whale is in great jeopardy and it’s up to us to do everything we can to protect them in Cape Cod waters, one of their most critical feeding areas.” said Dr. Mayo.
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, the Bruce J. Anderson Foundation, Bonnell Cove Foundation, Disney Conservation Foundation, Fuller Family Foundation, Arthur & Elaine Johnson Foundation, Ramlose Foundation, Towle Ocean Conservation Fund, Nauset Disposal, and contributions from CCS members.