Wednesday, December 24, 2008

EGNO 2645 Free of Entanglement!

Turns out that one of those whales seen on my very first flight of the winter was EGNO 2645, one of the entangled right whales seen in Cape Cod Bay last winter! Photographs confirm that she is now gear free!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I am excited to announce that I've just started a new position with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts!!! The right whale aerial survey team I join consists of Tim Cole, Pete Duley, and Allison Glass. For more info about the Right Whale Sighting Advisory System, see:

My first day on the job started with a bang as we flew out to Jordan's Basin and saw 33 right whales!!!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ship Strike Final Rule!

The new ship strike rule will go into effect in early December of 2008, and represents a major victory for North Atlantic Right Whale conservation!!!

There are less than 400 North Atlantic Right Whales remaining, and the main threats facing them are shipstrike and entanglement in fishing gear.

The new regulations will require vessels over 65 feet in length to reduce their speed to 10 knots or less, when in areas and at times where right whales are likely to be present.

Hopefully, these new speed restrictions will help to reduce the risk of fatal collisions and this small endangered population will continue to increase in numbers ...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Whale-safer Lobster!

For those of you who like the occasional lobster treat, please consider purchasing your lobsters right here in Massachusetts... we are the only state to have banned floating groundline, and replaced it with sinking groundline!!!

This means that instead of having a lot of dangerous fishing gear in the water column, it will lay flat on the ocean bottom, and be less likely to get caught on a whale swimming by! This is a huge step for the North Atlantic right whale (there are only about 400 right whales remaining!) and entanglement in fishing gear is a major source of mortality and injury.

For more info, check out the link below:

Monday, October 06, 2008

Cool Interactive Right Whale Game!

Ocean Conservancy launched an interactive game geared toward children to educate them about the challenges that right whales face along their migratory path. It's pretty cool... check it out!!!

Click here to play the game

Monday, July 07, 2008

Up to 178!

We're up to 178 different individal right whales in Cape Cod Bay this season, and there are still even more photos to dig through!!!

It's officially a record!!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Slalom" and her Calf

In digging through the photos for analysis, I just came across this one of a mother and calf right whale, one of my favorites of the season. The mother's name is Slalom, and she also known as EGNO 1245...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Up to 150 right whales!

We've carefully gone through all of our photographs up through April 14th and we already have 150 different individuals!!! (not bad considering there are only an estimated 400 individuals in the entire species)

Over the next few weeks, we'll be wrapping up the remaining loose ends from our survey flights in late April and early May, so stay tuned for the final count...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tragic loss

John Ambroult, friend and pilot on the right whale aerial survey team was killed when his plane crashed last Saturday... his death represents a tragic loss not only to his friends and family, but to the community of scientists who have relied on his expertise in flying surveys for right whales and other species.


Published in the Cape Cod Times on 5/21/2008:

EASTHAM — John Ambroult, 60, died Sunday, May 18, 2008, while piloting an airplane carrying researchers doing a federal bird and wind study, near Eagleswood, N.J.

Mr. Ambroult was born in Eastham and graduated from Nauset Regional High School. In 1967, he enlisted in the Air Force, serving six years in England as a jet engine mechanic. Returning to Eastham, Mr. Ambroult started his own plumbing business, which he ran for 15 years. He then embarked on a second career as a plumbing teacher at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School.

In 1990, he bought his first plane, and his love of flying, at first a hobby, matured into a profession. Flying out of the Chatham Municipal Airport as Ambroult Aviation, Mr. Ambroult eventually owned three planes and employed other pilots. Frequent customers included scientists from private organizations like the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and the New England Aquarium, as well as state and federal agencies.

Mr. Ambroult won high praise from these researchers for his professionalism and knowledge of flying and the sea.

He is survived by his wife, Elena Belavska of Eastham; his mother, Helen Knowles of Eastham; his father, Arthur Ambroult; his former wife, Carolyn Ambroult and their son Sean, both of Eastham; three sisters, Diane Douglas, Kathleen Murray, and Michele Watson, all of Eastham; three brothers, Martin Mickle and Theodore Mickle, of Eastham, and Robert Mickle of Windsor, N.H.; and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.

Friends and relatives are welcome to join the family in a memorial visitation tomorrow from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Nickerson Funeral Home, 77 Eldredge Park Way in Orleans. The graveside service will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, PO Box 1036, Provincetown, MA 02657; or to the New England Aquarium.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

100 Right Whales!

After weeks of photo-analysis back in the office, we have carefully gone through every photograph taken during the busy flights of April 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th...

The results? During this one week in Cape Cod Bay, we documented 100 different individual right whales!!!

(That's roughly 1/4 of the entire species)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Aerial Survey - 06 May 2008

We had a gorgeous day out above the bay today, with very little wind and flat calm waters! We slowly made our way up through Cape Cod Bay going trackline by trackline, and looking for right whales. We had an incredible view of a basking shark, and saw quite a few fin and humpback whales, but not a single right whale was seen! It appears that they've left just as suddenly as they came...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

R/V Ibis- 01 May 2008

After spending all week doing photo-analysis in the office, I had an unexpected opportunity to help out the disentanglement team this afternoon. We received a report of a possible entanglement in Cape Cod Bay and went out to investigate. We never did find an entangled whale, but it was a gorgeous afternoon out on the water- flat calm! We saw fin and humpback whales, and got an amazing close up look at a basking shark!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Aerial Survey- 19 April 2008

We lifted off from Chatham and began in the south end of Cape Cod Bay. The weather was gorgeous with a calm sea state and we began to quickly photograph all the right whales we encountered on our tracklines. Over the course of the next nine hours, we covered ten tracklines and photographed 62 right whales, including three mother/calf pairs and the injured EGNO 3530. We are all anxious to spend some time back in the office looking at all of our data, so that we can get a minimum estimate on the number of individual right whales that have been utilizing Cape Cod Bay these few weeks!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Right Whales in the News!

Tune in to Channel 5 TV news at 6 PM or Cape and Islands NPR radio website:

and click on ThePoint for audio and / or the slideshow.

(that's my voice on the marine radio saying that we have 2645 and 3530 in sight)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Aerial Survey- 16 April 2008

We departed from Chatham bright and early and flew up the backside of Cape Cod Bay. As we transited north about three miles from the shoreline, the ocean was pretty quiet except for the occasional minke whale sighting. As we approached Race Point, we began to see much more activity… right whales subsurface feeding, humpback whales bubble feeding, huge fin whales gliding by, pods of dolphins, and diving gannets! As we began to circle the aircraft to obtain images for photo identification, we soon realized that we had a right whale in the area that was entangled in fishing rope. This whale was quickly identified as EGNO 1980, the entangled whale we had seen in Cape Cod on March 14th of this year. North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered, with less than 400 individuals remaining in the entire species. The leading causes of mortality are both anthropogenic (caused by human activities) - ship strike and entanglement in fishing gear. Since the survival of each individual right whale is so critical for preventing the extinction of the species, every effort is made to disentangle right whales seen carrying gear. We contacted the PCCS disentanglement team who quickly arrived on the scene aboard the R/V Ibis, and stood by to assist them from the air. Unfortunately, the whale simply did not tolerate the kind of close approaches necessary to cut the rope, and we reluctant left him at the end of the day without having made much progress. We did obtain thorough photo documentation, both from the aircraft and the vessel, which will greatly assist in assessing the condition of the whale and formulating a plan for disentanglement.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Habitat Cruise- 15 April 2008

Yum... copepods on tricuits anyone?

Well, after 20 years of vegetarianism, I ate an animal product today... copepods! They didn't really taste like much, just very salty.

The habitat studies team at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies monitors the distribution of zooplankton in the bay, and they towed at several different stations to collect samples. I primarily stayed up top to assist with the collection of photo ID data. Cape Cod Bay sure seems a whole lot bigger from a vessel than it does in an aircraft!

Aerial Survey- 14 April 2008

Due to the high winds, we didn’t lift off from the Chatham airport until almost noon. We flew up the backside of Cape Cod bay and found quite a few right whales off of Race Point despite the choppy seas. Documenting and photographing the 58 right whales that we spotted took so much time that we didn’t even make it through half of our survey area! Highlights of the afternoon included a sighting of Slalom (also known as EGNO 1245) and her calf. We also saw humpbacks, fin whales, white-sided dolphins, and hundreds of gannets!

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Walk out to Race Point- 12 April 2008

Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies aerial survey observer, Ruth Leeney, photographing right whales from the beach off of Race Point on Cape Cod (Photos by Christin Khan).

What do right whale aerial survey observers do on their much needed day off? Why, of course we go walking on the beaches in search of right whales...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Aerial Survey- 11 April 2008

We took advantage of the fair weather with our fourth survey in a row! Once again we found numerous right whales scattered throughout the middle of the bay, feeding both at the surface (skim feeding) and just below it (subsurface feeding). We even photographed one right whale feeding sideways! We also got a photo of EGNO 2790’s calf up at the surface between two feeding adults, really shows how tiny the calf is! We saw quite few seals- about forty off of Plymouth and another hundred or so off of Jeremy Point near Wellfleet. Photos of the seals at Jeremy Point revealed both grey and harbor seals, although harbor seals were much more numerous. The survey ended prematurely due to incoming rain and loss of visibility, so we were only able to survey the bottom portion of the bay. Even this short survey was enough to demonstrate that the right whales are still spread throughout the bay and taking full advantage of the rich food resources present!

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Aerial Survey- 10 April 2008

After seeing so many whales in Cape Cod Bay yesterday, we were anxious to go have a look up further north to see what we missed. Unfortunately, the fog dampened our enthusiasm for an early morning takeoff, and we spent much of the day pacing around the airport anxiously waiting for the sky to clear. Finally we got off the ground at 2 pm and headed up the backside to begin our survey in the northern part of Cape Cod Bay. We were rewarded with an amazing abundance of wildlife off of Race Point and Wood End… we documented 56 right whales in addition to humpback whales, fin whales, and dolphins! We also had our first sighting of a right whale mother and calf in Cape Cod Bay this season. The mother, known as EGNO 2790, was first seen with her newborn calf by the FWRI aerial survey team off the coast of Florida on February 3rd. Just as the daylight was beginning to fade and we were about ready to head back in, we came across EGNO 3530 (severely injured) and EGNO 2645 (entangled) very close to Provincetown harbor. We contacted the PCCS disentanglement team who raced to the scene and we were able to stand by and assist just long enough to help them locate the whales before we had to return to the airport.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Aerial Survey- 09 April 2008

There were reports of fog in the northern part of the bay, so we began surveying to the south. Very soon we came across a single whale, traveling due south. We then encountered a surface active group (SAG), comprising three whales actively rolling and splashing at the surface. As we continued on our survey we encountered many more individuals, swimming directionally just below the surface with their mouths open, subsurface feeding. A group of five whales began feeding in an echelon formation, coordinating their movements with one another. We made our way slowly through the southern part of the bay, stopping to photograph each right whale that we encountered. We sighted both EGNO 2645, an entangled whale which was documented on our first survey of the year and several times since, and EGNO 3530, the severely injured whale first documented early this year in Florida. We contacted the disentanglement team and photographed both whales thoroughly to allow for an updated health assessment. The disentanglement team arrived on the scene and we were able to stand by and assist as they attempted to get a biopsy sample from the entangled EGNO 2645. Unfortunately, its sub-surface feeding behavior and rare appearances above water made it difficult for the team to find the right moment to approach the whale. Throughout the course of the day, we encountered and photographed at least 55 whales, and only made it halfway up the bay! Reports from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies research vessels indicated that there were also right whales in the vicinity of Provincetown, so there were even more whales present than indicated by our aerial survey data! The total estimated number of North Atlantic right whales is less than 400 individuals, so we have a really have a significant portion of the entire species in Cape Cod Bay right now!
Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Aerial Survey- 08 April 2008

After a long spell of unfavorable conditions, we finally had some good weather and it was time to find out whether any more whales had made their way into Cape Cod Bay. The sea was still a little choppy, but we were hopeful that conditions would improve. Starting in the south of the bay, we swiftly began encountering whales skim feeding and sub-surface feeding. Before long, we had an estimated total of 35 right whales and that was not even a complete survey of bay! The whales were concentrated in the central and western parts of the bay.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Late Season Surprise!

Another late season surprise this year! The Wildlife Trust South Carolina team spotted another new right whale with a calf... EGNO 1632, also known as Catspaw! This brings the total count for the season up to 19 new moms!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

2008 Right Whale Calving Season

The final calf count is in!!! (assuming there are no more late season surprises like last year)
The grand total?

18 New right whale calves born this season!!!!!!

Thanks to all the aerial survey teams in the Southeast who collect this valuable data- Wildlife Trust, the New England Aquarium, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Aerial Survey- 27 March 2008

We began our survey bright and early so that we could finish before the incoming afternoon rain. We began in the south end of Cape Cod bay and soon came upon a group of two right whales. Initially the whales were subsurface feeding, but as we circled above them taking photographs and collecting behavioral data, they formed a surface active group (SAG) and began to splash and roll around at the surface. Further north, just west of the center of the bay, we came upon a concentration of another ten right whales, all engaged in long dives. We were shocked to discover EGNO 3530 among them… this whale was last seen a few months ago off the coast of Florida severely injured. We alerted the disentanglement team and were able to photograph the whale thoroughly to aid in a health assessment of the whale’s condition. We ended our survey early due to the incoming rain.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Aerial Survey- 24 March 2008

A right whale upside down, showing off the brilliant white pattern on it's belly (head is toward the top). Photo by Christin Khan, PCCS.

A right whale surface active group (SAG) with two whales rolling around. Photo by Christin Khan, PCCS.

A rare glimpse of a right whale's eye as it rolls during a SAG in Cape Cod Bay. Photo by Christin Khan, PCCS.

Departing from Chatham, we flew up the backside of Cape Cod where we saw fin, humpback, and minke whales! Coming into the bay, we found first one right whale and then another… all aggregated northeast of the center of the bay. Many of the whales were going on long dives, remaining submerged for fifteen minutes or more! We also saw several right whale surface active groups (SAGs), including one upside down whale with a brilliant white pattern on it’s belly.

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Grantwriting Workshop

I just returned from a two-day grantwriting workshop which was a good start on my goal to get a few grant proposals out this year...

"Cape Cod Community College, WERC and the American Grant Academy present a professional grant writing workshop March 18-19 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the college (North Building Rm. 117). This intensive two-day grantwriting workshop is designed for beginners and intermediate grant writers who would like an overview, introduction and/or refresher to strengthen their grant writing skills. All participants will receive certification in professional grant writing from the Academy. "

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Aerial Survey- 14 March 2008

Christin Khan (left) and Kate Longley (right) relay information about the whale's position to the team aboard the R/V Ibis during a disentanglement attempt Friday.

Aerial view of Cape Cod taken during transit up the coast.

We began our aerial survey at the northern end of Cape Cod Bay and flew several track lines without a right whale in sight, although we did see a fin whale and two minke whales. Then we came upon the aggregation of right whales, clumped closely together off of Wood End in Provincetown. The whales were engaged in a variety of behaviors, but most were fluking up and remaining submerged for long periods of time, behavior indicative of foraging at depth. Among these right whales was “Wart” (also known as EGNO 1140), an adult female we have seen in the bay several times this month entangled in fishing rope. We contacted the PCCS disentanglement team who was able to remove some of the trailing rope to minimize the chances of it getting caught further on her flukes or flippers. After assisting with the disentanglement effort, we returned to the Chatham airport to refuel. Once we arrived back in the bay, we continued to document the right whales in the area, and came upon yet another entangled right whale. Luckily, the disentanglement team was still on the water and they were quickly on the scene. The whale was identified as EGNO 1980, an adult male right whale, and the disentanglement team was able to better assess his health and document his entanglement. There was a noticeable change in the behavior of the right whales in the bay as the afternoon progressed, with more and more whales beginning to skim feed at the surface- quite a sight!

Thursday, March 13, 2008 Article about Entanglements

2 right whales spotted with rope tangled in mouths

By Globe Staff
March 13, 2008

"Scientists today are continuing to monitor two female right whales off Cape Cod that were spotted earlier this week with rope tangled in their mouths.

The entanglement is “relatively mild” and because the rope is not wrapped around other body parts, “no immediate threat exists,” according to a press release from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Both of the whales are breeding females, which are particularly valuable because there are less than 400 still alive. “They help this critically endangered species recover by reproducing and thus adding to the population,” said Tanya Gabettie, a spokesperson for the Center for Coastal Studies, in an e-mail.

An aerial survey team noticed the first whale Tuesday afternoon during a routine flyover of Cape Cod Bay. The whale, which researchers know by the number 2645, was diving and feeding with at least 10 other whales. The Center for Coastal Studies sent a disentanglement team in a boat to get a closer look.

The team noticed another whale, which is know by the nickname Wart, that also had rope caught in its jaws. Both whales appeared to be feeding normally, despite the rope. However, scars on the whales indicated that the entanglement was once more severe, officials said.

This year that have been four reported right whale entanglements off the East Coast, including the pair spotted Tuesday."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Aerial Survey- 11 March 2008

We took off from Chatham this morning with high hopes for beautiful weather out on Cape Cod Bay. As we began our survey in the southern portion of the bay, we were disappointed to see that the winds were not as calm as predicted. With a Beaufort Sea State of 5, it can be very difficult to reliably detect right whales amidst all of the white caps and frothy water. Just as we were about to call it a day and head back in, the winds finally started to settle down. We completed our first seven tracklines without seeing a single marine mammal. About two-thirds of the way through our eighth trackline, we broke track for a sighting of two right whales. We soon realized that there was a large concentration of right whales clumped in small geographical area. We began to make our way from whale to whale, systematically documenting the location and behavior of each whale, and obtaining photographs for identification. The whales were engaged in a variety of behaviors including subsurface feeding and SAGs. With so much activity in the bay, we decided to land to refuel the airplane midway through our flight. When we reached the bay again, we were thrilled to see that the winds had dropped and the water was calm. We headed straight into the group of whales to make sure we hadn’t overlooked any of them, and came upon a right whale with rope trailing out of the baleen and alongside the body. We immediately began to document the details of the entanglement and contacted the PCCS Disentanglement Team. The whale was recognized as EGNO 2645, the whale we had seen entangled in Cape Cod Bay on January 12th. The rest of the afternoon was spent photographing the entangled whale and assisting in the disentanglement effort. At one point, while searching the area for EGNO 2645 amidst all the other right whales, we were alarmed to realize that we had a second entangled right whale in the area. The whale was soon recognized as EGNO 1140 (also known as “Wart”) who we had seen entangled in the bay last Thursday. Efforts throughout the afternoon resulting in getting thorough photo documentation of each entangled whale, and the disentanglement team aboard R/V Ibis was able to get a sample of the rope attached to EGNO 2645.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cape Cod Natural History Conference

This Saturday, I attended the 13th Annual Cape Cod Natural History Conference, which was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the ecology of Cape Cod as well as connect with friends and colleagues.

From the Cape Cod Community College website:
"Is a tiny, native crab responsible for the decline of salt marshes on Cape Cod? How does human activity affect shorebirds on South Beach in Chatham? Will salt marsh restoration projects affect the population of four-toed salamanders? Do wind turbines pose a threat to bats on Cape Cod? Questions like these will be explored at the 13th Annual Cape Cod Natural History Conference on Saturday, March 8, 2008 from 9 AM to 4 PM. The conference will be held at the Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, and is sponsored by the Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and the Environmental Technology Program at Cape Cod Community College. Now in its thirteenth year, the conference allows environmental organizations to learn about each other’s research and to exchange ideas. At the same time, it is an opportunity for the public to learn first hand about some compelling subjects relating to Cape Cod’s ecology, natural history, and conservation."

Sunday, March 09, 2008

R/V Shearwater

During our last aerial survey, I had an opportunity to get a photograph of the PCCS research vessel, Shearwater. The right whale habitat team aboard Shearwater was out collecting plankton samples to gain a better understanding of the right whale foraging habitat in Cape Cod Bay.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Aerial Survey- 06 March 2008

An adult North Atlantic right whale "posturing" with both the head and tail out of the water. Photo by Christin Khan, PCCS.

We began our survey today by flying up the coastline on the backside of Cape Cod where we encountered one lone minke whale. We entered Cape Cod Bay from the North and began to make our way down through the bay searching for the telltale signs of right whales. Soon we spotted a single adult right whale. No sooner had we photographed that whale, when we came across another single right whale. Ten minutes later, there was a third right whale! This one seemed to be traveling somewhere in a hurry, and we soon saw lots of surface activity up ahead… the whale was racing toward another group of right whale engaged in a surface active group (SAG). The whales were rolling and splashing at the surface, and one whale was belly up. As we circled the aircraft around the group of whales trying to determine how many individuals were involved in the SAG and obtain ID photographs, we came across another right whale swimming alone nearby, and then another! Clearly this small geographic area was a hotspot for right whales today. Unfortunately, the last whale we saw had fishing rope trailing out of the left side of her mouth… we immediately abandoned our survey effort and focused our attention on the entangled right whale. We contacted the PCCS disentanglement team who raced to the scene. We were able to track the entangled whale for several hours, but the whale’s evasive behavior and fading daylight did not permit the attachment of a tracking buoy.

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Getting Around!

I just identified this whale from our survey flight last Friday afternoon. The whale is EGNO 2614, an adult female that gave birth to her second calf last winter. She was just seen in December off the coast of Florida by the New England Aquarium aerial survey team! I guess it should come as no surprise that she made her way up to Cape Cod Bay a few months later.

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Aerial Survey- 29 February 2008

The winds calmed down enough by late morning to permit another survey of Cape Cod Bay. During the course of our flight, we located and photographed five individual right whales, by far the most we’ve seen inside the bay this season! All of the right whales were located in the central portion of the bay, but they did not appear to be associated with one another. One of the whales looked very familiar, and turned out to be EGNO 1503, the adult female we had seen in the bay about a week ago! The other four whales all appear to be newcomers.

One of the ways to distinguish a right whale from other large whales is their characteristic v-shaped blow, as seen in the image above from our flight on Friday.

I also included a little self-portrait of our survey plane in flight, taken out of the side window.

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Senator Kerry's Bill to Protect Right Whales

WASHINGTON, Feb 20, 2008

Senator John Kerry today introduced legislation that would help protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from injury and death due to ship strikes. The Ship Strike Reduction Act of 2008 would require the Bush Administration to finalize a rule establishing speed limits for specified vessels in migratory paths of North Atlantic right whales. The federal rule enforcing the speed limits, known as "the Ship Strike Rule," was first proposed in February, 2007, but the rule has been buried in the regulatory process for over a year.

"The Bush Administration needs to stop dragging their feet, follow the best available scientific evidence, and take immediate action to protect endangered right whales. A continued delay in finalizing these protections will result in even more deaths that are easily avoidable, and push the species closer to extinction," Kerry said.

Ship strikes are the leading cause of death for the North Atlantic right whale. Top scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared that a reduction in speed was absolutely vital to protecting this critically endangered species. The proposed rule calls for reductions in speed limits to 10 knots for boats at least65 feet long and traveling within 30 nautical miles of ports between Savannah, GA, and New York City, NY, during the peak right whale migratory months, November through March.

"Limiting vessel speed to 10 knots or less is the most effective, viable option for protecting right whales," said Jeff Flocken, Washington, D.C.Office Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)."As the possibility of more collisions from ship traffic continues to increase, the right whale faces an imminent threat of extinction."

"The Administration's own scientists have told us what needs to be done to save this species, yet there has been no movement on the recommendations in over a year. Senator Kerry's bill compels the Administration to finally move forward in protecting this endangered whale," Flocken said.

The North Atlantic right whale population was decimated by whaling at the turn of the last century. Less than 350 North Atlantic right whales exist today, making them one of the rarest whales in the world.

Founded in 1969, IFAW is an international animal welfare and conservation organization that works to protect wild and domestic animals and to broker solutions that benefit both animals and people.To learn more and to take action, visit today.

SOURCE: International Fund for Animal Welfare

Friday, February 22, 2008

Aerial Survey- 21 February 2008

EGNO 1503, an adult female North Atlantic right whale. Photo by Christin Khan, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

After two and half weeks of high winds, the aerial survey team took off from Chatham anxious to see what’s happening in Cape Cod Bay. Unfortunately, the winds had not subsided as quickly as we had hoped, and there were still quite a few whitecaps obscuring our view.

We were fortunate to find one right whale amidst the rough seas and get some photos of the callosity pattern before calling it a day and returning to the airport. We later determined that the whale was EGNO 1503, an adult female last seen in Massachusetts Bay in 2006. She gave birth to a calf two years ago.

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Right Whale Calving Season Update

So far this year there have been 16 right whale calves born off the Southeastern United States! The rate of discovery of new calves is pretty similar to the past two seasons, so I'm hopeful that we'll have even more calves born over the next month or so.
Thanks to all the aerial survey teams in the Southeastern United States who collect this valuable data- Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute, the New England Aquarium, and Wildlife Trust.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Aerial Survey- 03 February 2008

EGNO 1968, an adult female North Atlantic right whale. Photo by Christin Khan, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

The aerial survey team completed a full survey of Cape Cod Bay in beautiful sighting conditions again on Sunday. The beginning of the survey was uneventful, with no whale sightings as we traveled up the back side of the Cape and around into the northern half of Cape Cod Bay. About halfway through the flight, we spotted the distinctive callosity of a right whale very close to shore near Truro/Wellfleet. After circling to photograph the right whale and collect behavioral data, we returned to our tracklines and continued working our way south. We were just about ready to head in for the day when a second right whale was spotted on our last trackline, again in shallow water, this time just north of Barnstable Harbor. The whale was resting motionless at the surface of the water in a behavior known as “logging”, so it was quite easy to get the photographs necessary to match the whale to the catalog of known individuals. Anxious to get a closer look at our data and photos, we returned to the Chatham airport.

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Right Whale Calving Rates

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Aerial Survey- 26 January 2008

The aerial survey team waited patiently for the winds to die down on Saturday morning and then seized the brief opportunity of calm weather to get up in the air for a survey. An acoustic buoy had picked up right whale calls in Cape Cod Bay the night before, so we were eager to find and photograph the whale or whales in the area. Right whales are individually identifiable based on the callosity pattern on their head. Callosities are areas of raised cornified skin that become covered in cyamid crustaceans, often called “whale lice”. Aerial photographs of right whales can be compared to a catalog of known individuals curated by the New England Aquarium. Once a match has been made to the catalog, demographic information on the whale can be retrieved such as the age, sex, and recent sighting history. Unfortunately we did not have an opportunity to match whales to the catalog this weekend. The entire Cape Cod Bay was surveyed in absolutely beautiful sighting conditions, but no whales were seen.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Aerial Survey- 17 January 2008

The aerial survey team departed the Chatham airport bright and early this morning, and headed eastbound. We flew thirteen tracklines east of Cape Cod Bay, approximately fifteen nautical miles offshore, in search of right whales. The weather was perfect for a survey, with low winds, great visibility, and enough cloud cover to keep the water’s surface free of glare from the sun. We saw quite a few humpback whales and got a really nice look at a fin whale. Fin whales have a very distinctive chevron pattern on the side of their body and the view from the air was quite a treat. We completed our survey and headed in without sighting any right whales. Even though we knew it was unlikely to find EGNO 2645 again today (the entangled right whale seen Saturday), we couldn’t help being a bit disappointed as the weather would have been ideal for a disentanglement attempt.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Aerial Survey- 12 January 2008

The aerial survey team was able to find another window of opportunity when low winds on Saturday permitted a survey flight. Three humpback whales and one minke whale were spotted during our initial trackline east of Cape Cod. We nearly completed the entire survey of Cape Cod Bay without spotting any whales inside the bay. In late afternoon we came across an entangled right whale! Unfortunately entanglement in fishing gear is a common problem encountered by right whales, and is the second leading cause of known mortality (the first being ship strike) in this highly endangered species. We immediately contacted the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies disentanglement team who coordinated efforts with our nearby research vessel, the Shearwater. Unfortunately, daylight was fading fast and the disentanglement team members aboard the Shearwater were unable to attach a tracking buoy to the whale before dark. We were later able to match our photographs of this whale to the database of known individuals. The entangled whale is an adult female, known as EGNO 2645. She gave birth to a calf in the Southeast last winter and was also seen in the Bay of Fundy this fall.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

First Survey of the Season!

The first aerial survey of the 2008 field season was completed today! Winter on Cape Cod is frequently blustery, but we were able to take advantage of the calm winds today to get up in the air to test our equipment and survey protocols. Taking off from the Chatham airport in a twin-engine Cessna Skymaster, our survey team was able to cover the entire bay before sunset. No right whales were seen, but the team did spot a large fin whale!