On Thursday January 7, 2016 an aerial survey team from the Center for Coastal Studies’ Right Whale Ecology program in Provincetown spotted two rare and critically endangered North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod Bay, just north of Dennis. This is the first confirmed sighting of right whales in the Bay this winter.
Center scientists have been studying right whale occurrence, distribution, abundance, behavior, and resource utilization in the Bay since 1976. The Center’s aerial surveys, which take place weekly throughout the December – May season, have shown that, on average, almost one-half of the total estimated population of 526 North Atlantic right whales have congregated in the Bay each winter and spring during the last 6 years, drawn by dense concentrations of the zooplankton upon which they feed.
Working closely with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Protected Resources, the research teams from the Center for Coastal Studies will be on the water and in the air when weather allows, documenting the whales and collecting samples to determine the concentration and type of zooplankton in the Bay. Comparisons of these data with those from previous years should eventually allow Center scientists to document ongoing changes in the whales’ critically important habitat and their use of its rich food resources.
Cape Cod Bay is one of several critical habitats where right whales are known to reside. Right whales are at risk for interactions with vessels so mariners are urged to keep a sharp lookout and remember that federal law states it is illegal to approach a right whale within 500 yards (1,500 feet).
To help protect the whales, Critical Habitat and Seasonal Management Area regulations go into effect in Bay waters every January 1.
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.
If you have a confirmed sighting of right whale please report it to NOAA Fisheries (866-755-6622) or the U.S. Coast Guard (Marine Channel 16).