Thar she blows!

Endangered Right Whales in Harms Way in Cape Cod Bay

On Tuesday, researchers from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) aboard the R/V Shearwater sighted an endangered North Atlantic right whale mother and her calf feeding in the western portion of Cape Cod Bay.

The right whales - two of 42 right whales sighted in the Bay so far this year - were near the Cape Cod Canal that large ships use on their way to industrial ports to the north and south.

The whales were sighted as the Shearwater was on a routine research cruise conducting tests on the water column for zooplankton, a chief food for right whales, for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) under the direction of PCCS Senior Scientist Dr. Charles â??Stormyâ? Mayo. PCCS immediately notified DMF, which in turn contacted Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP,) who would have been available for patrolling the area. PCCS also contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, operator of the canal, to alert ship captains to the presence of right whales. 

Ship strikes are leading cause of whale deaths

No fewer than seven large ships use the canal every day. Ship strikes are a leading cause of right whale mortality. â??Clearly the future of right whales depends on young calves and their safety is of the utmost importance,â? explained Mayo, who added the right whale mother, who stays in close proximity to her calf, were in â??extreme dangerâ? feeding in an area close to commercial marine traffic. 

In the past few weeks many right whales have been observed feeding at or near the surface, and at least six different mother-calf pairs have been seen in the Bay, on several occasions toward the west where they are more likely to encounter large vessels en route to and from the canal. Based on the recent observations of right whales in the Bay, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries issued an advisory to mariners last week recommending that operators of all types of vessels post lookouts and maintain speeds of 15 knots or less while transiting the Bay.

Humpback Whale Season Underway on Cape Cod

The first humpback whale calf of the 2005 season was seen in Provincetown Harbor on Monday. Its mother, Scylla, is well-known to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS.) The 24-year old whale has been a regular visitor to Cape Cod waters her entire life. 

Jooke Robbins, director of PCCS humpback whale research, says the calf is Scyllaâ??s ninth, and the first calf identified in New England this spring.   North Atlantic humpback whales give birth in the West Indies in winter, but spend the rest of the year on feeding grounds between New England and Norway.   â??Although mothers start returning with their calves in April, sightings are infrequent until later in spring and early summer,â? explains Robbins.  Humpback whale sightings in Provincetown Harbor are not common, but more likely to occur in spring and fall.

Although this sighting was close to home, Robbins and her research team spend their summers offshore, studying humpback whales from Nantucket north to Nova Scotia and east to Georges Bank. 

PCCS maintains an extensive database of over 1,800 individuals, identified by a unique pattern on the underside of the tail.   Time spent at sea provides PCCS with critical information on individuals, such as their sex, age, distribution, reproductive history and family ties.  These data are vital in studying the structure, status and trend of this endangered population.  Sightings of calves are particularly important because there is no other way to establish the age of a living humpback whale.  Scylla was part of scientific history when she produced her first calf in 1987 because that event helped to establish the age of sexual maturity in humpback whales. 

The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1976 and dedicated to the research and protection of marine mammals and the coastal environment, through public education, scientific research, and conservation.  To learn more about humpback whale research at PCCS, and how you can help with this research, visit us on the web.

Contact: Theresa M. Barbo, Director of Communications, (508) 487-3622 x103 (o) (774) 353-8034 (c) [email protected]

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