Right whale #1204 with her 2019 calf in Cape Cod Bay
FROM THE CENTER FOR COASTAL STUDIES
On Sunday, April 7 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 2019 calves to their feeding grounds here in the northeast.
The calf, which was first sighted by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on January 17 in the calving grounds of the southeastern US, is the third of seven known mom-calf pairs of the season. Its mother is right whale #1204, a whale of at least 38 years of age that was first seen in 1982. This is #1204’s ninth known calf; her first was documented in 1988, the most recent in 2013. Out of the nine calves, this is only the second #1204 has been documented with in Cape Cod Bay.
Boaters, kayakers, paddle-boarders, swimmers and light aircraft and drone 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 unbeatable views 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 AvWatch, private foundations, and contributions from CCS members.
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Many thanks to Martin Del Vecchio for sharing his video and still images (see photos here) of the spectacularly beautiful pod of North American Right Whales feeding off of Cape Ann shores yesterday, May 4, 2018.
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It looks like the whales will be in town over the weekend and I was wondering if you’d be willing to remind people to watch out for them, report sightings to our hotline 866-755-6622, and to remind everyone about the 500-yard rule, which applies to everyone– swimmers, drones, boaters of every kind including kayakers, paddle boarders.
They seemed to my untrained eye to be adults, much larger than the juvenile who visited Bass Rocks in 2015 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJVnGpiwigY). And unlike that whale, which seemed to be exploring and playing, these whales were feeding systematically.”
All photos copyright Martin DelVecchio
See Marty’s flicker album here for more North Atlantic Right Whale photos:
Amanda Maderia, director of education programs at Maritime Gloucester writes, “Confirming Iain’s comments about believing the whales seen off our coast are likely Right Whales: We have observed some incredible plankton tows the last two days. From a few passes from our docks with our net, the sample has looked pretty clear most of the winter, but as you can see from yesterday’s sample, it looks almost blood red thick with Calenoid copepods, a huge food source for the North Atlantic Right Whale.
Looking at the overhead shot, the bucket on the left is from our plankton tow, and a close up of that to follow. This is what one looks like under the microscope.
The plankton haul was discovered by Waring School students who come to Maritime Gloucester once a week for the spring semester. They use it as their field station for John Wigglesworth’s oceans and climate course.
Wednesday morning, May 16th, students will be having a poster presentation of their work in the Gorton Gallery at Maritime Gloucester from 10:30-11:30.
We welcome and encourage public to attend!!
Right Whale Migration Route
The first photo was taken from Race Point in Province town, on April 21, 2017, almost a year to the day of the Gloucester sightings.
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Very sadly, it appears the North Atlantic Right Whale yearling found near Barnstable died from blunt trauma.
“Preliminary findings of bruising were consistent with blunt trauma,” according to NOAA Fisheries, which oversaw the necropsy. “There was no evidence of entanglement. Final diagnosis is pending ancillary laboratory tests that can take weeks or months.”
The young whale was a female, and was approximately 27 feet long. She has been identified as a one-year old offspring of Eg#4094 from the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog born in 2016.”
According to the Cape Cod Times, “No. 4094 was born in 2010 and was nicknamed Mayport for her exploration of waters near Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, Florida. She was slightly younger than most right whales are when they start to birth. Her yearling had been seen last summer in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off the northeast coast of Canada, an area the species has been occupying more and more recently.”
There are only five hundred of these magnificent mammals remaining on earth. Every single whale is important. The utmost caution is advised when viewing the whales. Boaters are urged to travel slowly and to keep at least 500 yards or 1500 feet away, and this includes kayakers, paddle boarders, swimmers, and rowers too.Right Whale and her calf, photographed on April 14th at Cape Cod Bay by the Center for Coastal Studies aerial team.
Go see the Right Whales! Hundreds are currently off the coast of Provincetown and you can easily view them from the beaches. I had an idea of where best to see the Right Whales after reading several bulletins and articles but very fortunately, we ran into Schooner Adventure Captain Stefan Edick on Provincetown’s main Commercial Street. He had seen them earlier that morning and suggested exactly where to go. After having a quick bite at a favorite lunch spot, Spiritus, we followed Stefan’s advice and headed straight to Herring Cove. There they were, feeding about 1500 feet or so from shore, dozens and dozens. We stayed for awhile and then checked out Race Point Beach. Here they were even a bit nearer the shore, by the Old Harbor Life Saving Station. Perhaps we saw Hundreds, and it was a beautiful sight!! Right Whales feed along the surface of the water, spout lots of snot, and tip their tails when diving. The whales were too far off shore for my camera’s range to get any spectacular shots but it was super fun nonetheless. Also feeding with the whales were Northern Gannets, Laughing Gulls, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Herring Gulls.
These two were swimming together for about half an hour; perhaps they are a mother and calf.
Five at once!
If home this week for school vacation, a day trip to Provincetown to see the Right Whales would make for a wonderful adventure. I don’t think the Center for Coastal Studies is open to visitors at this time of year, but many of the shops are open (including the always interesting Shell Shop). We had dinner at the bar at a very favorite restaurant, Fanizza’s, with lovely views of the beach (there isn’t a bad view from any seat at Fanizza’s). Our fresh seafood dinners were fabulous. Tom had the cod, I had whole belly clams, and they were the perfect end to a perfect day.
A pair of seals swam very close to the beach; they appeared puzzled by so many folks watching the whales and at that, seemed to decide not to come ashore.
The following was shared by our State Representative Ann Margaret Ferrante from “Mass Moments”
April 15, 1975 charter boat captain Al Avellar left Provincetown Harbor with a boatload of school children. They were going to look, not fish. This was the first whale-watching trip on the eastern seaboard. Al Avellar soon established the first whale-watching company on the Atlantic coast and began to expand his fleet, adding vessels especially designed for viewing whales. The whale-watching business flourished and spread to Boston and Cape Ann. Today over 2,000,000 people a year view the friendly and playful cetaceans that frequent the waters of New England between April and October. Eighty-five years after the region’s whaling industry disappeared, whale watching is a $100,000,000 business in New England.
For centuries, the tip of Cape Cod was familiar territory to whalers. Wampanoag Indians hunted for whales inshore and passed their skills on to the English settlers. Provincetown‘s excellent natural harbor was one of the best in New England, and the town soon became a busy seaport. By the middle of the nineteenth century, there were more than 700 vessels in the Provincetown fleet. Many of these ships undertook long journeys in pursuit of sperm whales and large profits.
The American whaling industry was in decline by the early 1900s, and in 1924, the last Provincetown whaling ship completed its final voyage. More than 50 years would pass before a new kind of whale hunting began; its purpose was to observe, study, and admire, rather than to kill, whales.
Captain Al Avellar ran a charter fishing business from the Provincetown wharf. He noticed that when the occasional whale surfaced near the boat, fishing rods clattered to the deck as his customers raced to see the giant mammal. “I figured if fishermen would look, there must be something to whale watching.” In the spring of 1975, he started offering whale watching trips. The business got off to a slow start, but in time his Dolphin Fleet would carry tens of thousands of passengers.
Avellar found a willing partner in Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, co-founder of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown. Established to preserve marine mammals and coastal habitats, the Center operates on the principle “that the successful management and preservation of ecosystems depends on strong, detailed knowledge of species and their natural history.” What better way for naturalists to study the behavior and habitat of whales than to partner with a company whose vessels make daily trips to the whales’ summer feeding grounds.
The whale watching business spread to Boston and several other Massachusetts ports. Gloucester has half a dozen whale watching companies; the town is also home to the Whale Center of New England, founded in 1980, whose goal is to “contribute to the understanding and protection of marine mammals and their habitat.”
A female two- to three-month-old rare North Atlantic Right Whale calf was found dead in Cape Cod Bay on Thursday. She was one of only four calves born this year to a species in sharp decline. Researchers and whale lovers are especially distressed that the calf was a female, as they are the future of the population.
The calf was found north of Barnstable and was towed to Sesuit Harbor. Cause of death is unknown and a necropsy is planned.
As you may or may not have been following, there have been a record number of Right Whales currently making their home in the waters off Cape Cod, not because there are more whales, but because of the wealth of zooplankton. Each spring, Right Whales return to Cape Cod to feed on tiny crustaceans such as krill. Right Whales are the rarest of all large whale species, with only approximately 500 known world wide. They are endangered for several reasons. Right Whales never fully recovered from being heavily hunted during the whaling era. They have a high blubber content, which makes them float when killed, and produce a high yield of whale oil. Secondly, because they feed slowly by skimming at the photic zone of the ocean, at the upper surface of the water, they are vulnerable to ship strikes and to becoming entangled in fishing gear.
The best place too see Right Whales at this time of year is from Cape Cod beaches, according to Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies. They may be as close as 150 feet from the shore, which is closer than can be seen from research boats.