First ever bowhead whale spotted off Cape Cod

Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies reports record setting sighting off Orleans

Bowhead whale seen cavorting with right whales

   Bowhead whale in a Surface Active Group with North Atlantic right whales off the coast of Orleans, MA. PCCS image under NOAA Permit #14603,

The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) today announced a record setting sighting off Cape Cod.  In March, an aerial team spotted a bowhead whale east of Orleans. Bowheads are an arctic species, never before seen this far south in the Atlantic.

According to PCCS spokesperson Cathrine Macort, the bowhead, a 43-foot juvenile, was seen "engaged in social behavior" with a group of young North Atlantic right whales. The whales were photographed in what researchers call a surface active group or SAG. 

Bowhead whale observed off the coast of Orleans, MA. PCCS image under NOAA Permit #14603.

Not only is this the first bowhead seen near the Cape, it is also the first seen interacting with right whales, according to PCCS.

Bowheads are related to right whales, but they are best adapted to live in a polar region. Their thick blubber provides insulation and energy storage and they are capable of swimming up to 35 minutes underwater, even under ice.  They use their large skulls to break through the ice to create breathing holes, according to PCCS.

Changes in climate and weather may explain the bowhead venturing this far south. "Understanding the movement patterns and behavior of Arctic species, such as the bowhead whale, is critical to predicting the impacts of climate change on the ice-associated ecosystem. Bowhead whales are considered vulnerable to impacts of climate change, due to the current and projected loss of sea ice associated with global warming," said Dr. Cynthia Tynan, PCCS researcher.

Last week, according to PCCS, researchers from the New England Aquarium reported a bowhead in the Bay of Fundy. Images of the Cape Cod bowhead were compared to those of the Bay of Fundy bowhead, leading researchers to believe it is the same whale. 

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