April 26, 2016
Recent research cruises by the Center for Coastal Studies’ vessel and aircraft survey teams, working with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), have documented increasingly high concentrations of the plankton food of endangered North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod Bay, causing an aggregation of whales and presenting a risk to both mariners and whales.
Right whale activities in the bay have been dominated by near-surface feeding behavior. This presents a particularly high risk for ship collision because the animals spend long periods of time just one to three meters beneath the surface – shallow enough to be struck by vessels passing overhead, but too deep to be visible to mariners.
Among the whales in the feeding aggregation, Center for Coastal Studies’ aerial survey team has identified 5 right whale mothers with nursing newborn calves. The less-agile calves are particularly vulnerable to vessel collision. Mariners are urged to exercise caution, to slow to 10 knots, and to stand watch throughout the Bay until the whale aggregation disperses.
The risk for ship strike and potential interaction with fisheries is likely to remain elevated for right whales, and a number of other whale species presently in the Bay, until there is a decline in the food resource that is keeping them in the area. The Center for Coastal Studies, in collaboration with Massachusetts DMF, will continue to monitor and update information on the conditions in the bay and the distribution of the whales.
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.