Thursday, December 23, 2010

{Update} Calving season has begun!

The aerial survey teams in the Southeast US have now spotted a total of 6 mother-calf pairs of North Atlantic right whales so far this year!!! There are little over 400 individuals in the entire species, so each new calf is a cause for celebration and one step further away from extinction...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

{Press} First right whale calf of the season sighted off Sapelo Island

Savannah Now | Mary Landers | December 7, 2010

"Biologists spotted the first baby whale of the North Atlantic right whale calving season Friday off Sapelo Island.

"The calf was swimming steadily alongside its mother and appeared healthy," said Clay George, natural resources biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Right whales are highly endangered with an estimated 350-450 remaining. They were hunted to near extinction for their blubber and baleen in the 18th and 19th centuries when they were the "right" whale to catch because they swam slowly and floated when dead.

Now they're the focus of an intense monitoring and protection effort. Biologists from the EcoHealth Alliance (formerly the Wildlife Trust) and the Georgia DNR fly aerial surveys looking for the animals off the Georgia coast from December through March. Similar efforts extend southward into the waters off Florida and northward to the waters off South Carolina. The waters off the Southeast are their only known calving grounds.

Friday's mother and calf were a bit of a surprise because they were the first whales spotted by the Georgia team this season.

"Usually, we will see some very pregnant looking-females before we sight the first calf of the season," said Patricia Naessig, who heads up the EcoHealth Alliance team.

The calf appeared to be at least a week or two old based on the growth of white sea lice on its head.

During aerial surveys, biologists take photos and make detailed records of the whales they see. They also alert mariners about right whale locations in an effort to reduce the risk of ships striking the animals. Right whales can grow to 70 tons and 55 feet long, but can still be hard for ships' captains to see when they rest at the surface.

The adult female, or cow, spotted Friday was identified tentatively as No. 1064. She's an adult of unknown age first documented in 1989. The calf is her fourth recorded baby.

"The mother and calf were definitely showing some body contact," Naessig said. "At one point, we observed the calf laying across the back of the mother."

Right whales can give birth every three years at most. They had a record showing in 2008/2009 with 40 calves sighted. Last season that number was down to 19.

"It's too early to make any predictions about this year's calf count," George said. "We don't know how many pregnant females are currently in southeast U.S. waters, as high winds have limited the amount of survey effort so far this season."

Naessig is optimistic.

"Hopefully, sighting a mother and calf so early in the season is a good sign that we will be seeing lots of calves in the Southeast this year," she said."

{Update} New NEFSC website is live!!!


New and improved with all sorts of juicy stuff including a Google Earth map display of right whale sightings by season, yearly aerial survey team reports, how to report a right whale sighting, and links to other important right whale resources!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

{Press} Rules protect right whales from speeding ships

StarNews Online | Gareth McGrath | December 4, 2010

"The federal government has again enacted go-slow zones for vessels traveling along the mid-Atlantic coast to help protect one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world.

But this year, the speed-limit rules meant to prevent large ships from colliding with the North Atlantic right whales come with some muscle behind them.

For the first time since the seasonal management areas were established in December 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has cited seven vessels for allegedly going too fast.

The notice of violations issued earlier this month was for ships that allegedly traveled multiple times through the zones last year at speeds well in excess of the 10 knots allowed.

The rule requires all ships over 65 feet to slow down to 10 knots, or 11.5 mph, when within 20 nautical miles of mid-Atlantic ports, including North Carolina's two deepwater ports in Wilmington and Morehead City.

The go-slow zones run from Nov. 1 through April 30, the times at which North Atlantic right whales are known to migrate along the near-shore waters extending from Rhode Island to Georgia.

The animal's calving grounds are off Georgia and Florida, although the whales have been known to give birth farther north also.

Right whales were once a relatively common sight along the U.S. coastline.

But the large, slow-moving whale received its name because it was the easiest – and hence the "right" – whale for 19th-century whalers to hunt, which they did with reckless abandon.

That's left a population today estimated at only 400 animals, with every whale considered critical for the species survival.

But Ann Pabst, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, said that for the first time in a long time she's feeling optimistic about the animal's chances to avoid extinction.

Ship strikes and getting tangled in old fishing gear are among the leading killers of the animals.

But since the new speed-limit rules for ships were introduced, Pabst said, there hasn't been a known ship-strike death of a right whale in the Southeast.

Coupled with that, the slow-breeding right whale has been on a bit of a birthing boom.

Pabst said that since 2001, an estimated 200 calves have been born – including two believed to have been born off Wrighstville Beach by "Calvin," who was originally identified as a male before scientists discovered otherwise.

"So the right whales are doing their part," she said. "And with these continued conservation and management steps we've taken in recent years, I'm hopeful we're on the right path."

But, Pabst cautioned, there's still a long way to go.

To that end she said mariners should immediately notify the Coast Guard if they see a right whale, or any whale for that matter, off the coast.

Pabst said the annual migration south takes place in the fall and early winter, with the whales returning to their summer grounds off New England and the Canadian maritime provinces in late spring.

"And they're here now," she said, adding that boaters should also stay a safe distance away from the animals if they happen to come across one. "There's no doubt about that."

Pabst said there were several sightings just before Thanksgiving, with the Coast Guard issuing an alert to mariners Nov. 22"

Friday, December 03, 2010

{Press} Ships Break Speed Limits Set to Protect Right Whales

OnEarth Blog | Emily Gertz | December 2, 2010

"Christmastime. The winter holidays. Five weeks best spent hiding under a rock. Whatever you like to call this time of year, chances are that "period when seasonal speed limits go into effect off the Atlantic coast" has never come to mind.

But under a 2008 law intended to curb violent collisions between big ships and extremely endangered North Atlantic right whales, seasonal speed limits of 10 knots per hour (roughly 12 mph) took effect in early November, for vessels 65 feet long or greater. The rules apply to "seasonal management areas" where right whales are known to travel.

And the Obama administration is apparently enforcing them: In mid-November, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), announced that it had charged seven commercial ships with 49 counts of potentially deadly speeding, in violation of the right whale protection law.

NOAA is not revealing the identities of the seven vessels, says agency spokeswoman Lesli Bales-Sherrod, "until we know that the owners and operators have received the NOVAs," or notices of violations. She states that they have until mid-December to respond in one of three ways: pay the fines, ranging from $16,500 to $49,500; ask for the fines to be reduced; or request an administrative hearing over the charges.

Bales-Sherrod did convey that most the violations occurred in seasonal management areas, or SMAs, off the southeastern U.S. -- 26 in the Charleston SMA, 10 in the Savannah SMA, and 8 in the Norfolk SMA -- along with 5 in the New York SMA. All 49 speeding incidents occurred between Nov. 2009 and April 2010.

This year, the speed limits went into effect on Nov. 1 in areas between Brunswick, Ga. and Rhode Island, and on Nov. 15 from Brunswick to St. Augustine, Fla., according to Bales-Sherrod.

Once the foundation of the New England whaling industry, only 350-400 North Atlantic right whales have survived into the 21st century. Although the precise number of right whales struck by ships every year is unknown, these collisions are widely acknowledged to be major threats to their survival as a species. Scientific research cited by NOAA suggests that while one or two right whales hit by ships are found every year, there are likey more casualties that humans never see.

In 2008, the Bush administration enacted the speed limit law, called the Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule [PDF], following two years of delays credited by some at the time -- including Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, as well as Olympia Snowe of Maine -- to pressure from the maritime shipping industry. The regulations will expire at the end of 2013, unless NOAA opts to re-issue them.

"It seems, at the anecdotal level, that we're seeing a reduction in ship strikes," says Michael Moore, a senior biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Moore is often called in to analyze the corpses of marine mammals that wash ashore along the Eastern Seaboard, including right whales. The animals sometimes have gashes or scars from ship impacts, although that may not be the direct cause of death in every case.

Since the speed limits came into effect, "my gut is that things have improved," Moore says. "It would need another couple of years, and a decent statistical analysis, to get beyond the anecdotal level."

Bales-Sherrod says that NOAA is beginning to gather data on whether the speed limits are reducing whale-vessel collisions."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

{Press} Del. family sights right whale on Indian Inlet

Associated Press | November 24, 2010

"REHOBOTH BEACH, Del.—A Delaware family has sighted a rare right whale on the Indian Inlet near the mouth of the Delaware River and got video of the creature.

Matt Mundok and his family were bass fishing on the inlet on Sunday when they saw the whale. Mundok shot video on a Blackberry and posted it on YouTube. The family did not know what kind of whale it was until marine biologists contacted them after seeing the video.

Staff at the New England Aquarium saw the video and identified the right whale as being between 1 and 3 years old and 35 to 40 feet long. There are about 400 right whales remaining on the planet.

Aquarium staff say there have been a number of sightings in the Delaware Bay in the past week."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

{Press} Group Protects Whales from Sky

ABC News 4 Charleston, South Carolina | Neville Miller | November 23, 2010

"CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Keeping an eye out for whales in the ocean below from 1000 feet up, that's the task of the right whale observing team with EcoHealth Alliance.

The group flies in patterns of our coastline several days to track the massive mammals as they migrate southward from New England to give birth in warmer water.

"We've had groups of five to ten whales. We never really know how many whales are going to be there and some can be underneath the water anywhere from five to ten, to 15 minutes at a time," explained Melanie White with EcoHealth Alliance.

With a combination of good weather and luck, the EcoHealth Alliance team keeps track of each of the massive mammals by snapping photos of them.

Besides documenting each whale, the team also alerts authorities of their position to steer ships clear of the area.

"Ship strikes are one of the biggest issues or threats for right whales right now, especially here, they are migrating through, some of them are calving and they don't pay a lot of attention to the ships in the area," explained Dianna Schulte, team leader of the whale surveying team.

Protecting each whale is an important task as only as small number of the whales still exists.

"Historic populations before whaling began were between 10,000 and 50,000, so having under 500 shows how critically endangered they are," Schulte said.

The EcoHealth Alliance team hopes to rebound after last year when they saw about half as many whales as the record year in 2008, when they spotted nearly 100 individuals.

"We're hoping for an excellent calving season, two years ago was a record calving season with 39 born, last year we had 19, which is still pretty good," Schulte said.

Through the first full week of surveying, the team has seen two whales. The flights will continue through April 15th and is paid for by the State Ports Authority and NOAA."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

{Press} Right Whales Return To Coast

GPB News | Susanna Capelouto | November 23, 2010

Brunswick, Ga. —
"Right whale calving season has begun along the Georgia coast. A new rule slowing down large ships appears to be helping the endangered species.

Right whales spend the winter months in the waters between Brunswick and St.Augustine, Florida.

That’s where the females give birth to about 20 calves each year. Clay George is a wildlife biologist who monitors the whales for the state of Georgia.

“Down here in the South East our primary concern is collisions with ships," he says. "We have some busy ports and Naval facilities on the Georgia and Florida coast.”

George says a two year old rule requiring large ships to slow down to 10 knots or less in waters used by right whales appears to be working. He says there haven’t been any collisions since its enforcement."

Monday, November 22, 2010

{Press} Whales arriving earlier this year

Editor's Notes (by Christin Khan):

- 19 calves is not an unusual number for right whales (40 was a record high)

- There have been at least 4 documented right whale mortalities since January 2009


The St. Augustine Record | LORRAINE THOMPSON | November 22, 2010

"The whales are coming.

Although the North Atlantic right whales usually begin entering local waters in December, they may arrive earlier this season.

According to Joy Hampp, director of the Marineland Right Whale Project, the South Carolina/Georgia right whale survey team began flying surveys on Nov. 15 and reported two North Atlantic right whales off the coast of Georgia on Thursday.

Once a thriving species, fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales are known to exist, making them the world's most endangered whales.

Each year pregnant females migrate from the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, and the Gulf of Maine to the coastal waters of the southeastern United States to give birth and nurse their young. Last year, 19 calves were born in Southeast waters, the only known calving grounds.

The experts surmise that last year's colder than normal water temperatures contributed to the relatively low birth number, or it may have been the whales' birthing cycle. During the 2008-09 season a record of 40 calves were counted.

Females give birth every three to five years to a single calf after a 12- to 14-month gestation. Calves are completely dependent on their mothers for about one year. Right whales mature slowly and females are typically 9 to 10 years old before they give birth to their first calf. Studies show that males are 15 years old or older before they sire a calf. Right whales usually migrate alone or as a mother-calf pair.

"There has not been a documented right whale death since January 2009," Hampp said. "Last season was the second year that the speed reduction laws, requiring most vessels greater than 65 feet to maintain speeds of 10 knots or less in critical right whale areas, were in effect. While it is too early to know if this is making a difference, the absence of whale deaths is encouraging."

However, right whales continue to become entangled in fishing gear and have been photographed with new propeller scars, so the threats to their survival remain present.

Three years ago, whale watchers observed the adventures of right whale No. 2753, Arpeggio. She appeared off St. Augustine in mid-December and lingered in the area for two weeks with her first calf.

"Since the minimum interval between calves is three years," said Hampp, "we could see her again this season."

Another female, No. 1622, has been seen off St. Augustine and to the south every three years since 2002 with her second, third and fourth calves. "We last saw her in 2008, so if she repeats her pattern, she may be visiting our area this season, too, with her fifth calf."



Experienced and new whale watchers, as part of a network of volunteers, are needed to help monitor the whale traffic in our area. Training is provided. Seasonal visitors as well as residents are invited to attend training sessions.

A training session will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Anastasia Island Branch Library, 124 Sea Grove Main St. (off A1A at A Street) in St. Augustine Beach. Other sessions are scheduled on Dec. 4 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the Flagler County Public Library in Palm Coast and from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at the Ormond Beach Public Library. An orientation for all volunteers will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. Jan. 2 at the Center for Marine Studies, Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, 9505 Ocean Shore Blvd. in Marineland.

Although the official whale watching survey is scheduled to begin Jan. 3, the whales don't always follow that calendar. Last year the first whale sighting occurred in mid-December.

For information on the volunteer program, call 461-4058 or e-mail Early whale sighting reports should be directed to the toll-free Marine Resources Counsel Whale Hotline at (888) 979-4253. Any local sightings will be passed on to Hampp.



Boaters must keep at least 500 yards away from right whales. Federal law requires vessels 65 feet and longer to slow to 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, including the calving and nursery area in the southeastern United States. Speed restrictions are in place in various places along the mid- Atlantic from Nov. 1 through April 30, and in the southeastern U.S. calving area from Nov. 15 through April 15. For more information on seasonal ship speed restrictions, go to

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

{Press} Whales have to shout in noisy oceans

Practical Fishkeeping | November 17, 2010

"Our seas are getting louder, and in an effort to be heard over the noise of commercial, naval and recreational shipping traffic, oil installations, wind farms and the like, whales have had to raise their voices.

Marine biologists monitored 14 North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, which is an area with a high level of human-generated noise in the form of shipping traffic, resulting in a chronic noise that overlaps the frequency range of right whale communication signals.

They found that as the background noise level rose, so did the whale's voices - in fact two of the whales in a particularly noisy area, were practically shouting.

Having to shout to be heard obviously uses up more energy for the whale, but there's also a chance that it distorts the sound of the call to other whales.

It's also been found that whales are gradually changing the frequency of their calls - it's now about an octave higher than it was in studies carried out in the 1950s

Sound is vital to whales. They use it in communication, navigation and feeding. Researchers are worried that increased noise levels may force whales to stay closer to one another, where their calls can be heard. This will reduce the area in which they breed and find food.

For more information see the paper: Susan Parks et al (2010). Individual right whales call louder in increased environmental noise. Biology Letters."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

{Press} Right whales head south to Georgia |Mary Landers | November 16, 2010

Boaters asked to be alert for this highly endangered species

"On Monday, researchers began their annual aerial survey of North Atlantic right whales off the coast from Charleston to Sapelo Island. A similar survey south of Sapelo begins Dec. 1.

"During our aerial surveys, we document the births of new calves, record sightings of returning whales and alert shipping officials about the whereabouts of these slow-moving mammals to help keep them out of harm's way," said Cynthia R. Taylor, the associate vice president of the Aquatic Conservation Program at EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust), which conducts the surveys.

"The biggest threats to right whales are from ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear," she said. "So we immediately alert rescue crews when we see whales that are in trouble."

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ask that all boaters be on the lookout for these highly endangered whales - with a population of about 450 - that migrate to this area each winter to give birth.

Boaters are asked to report whale sightings and to keep a distance of at least 500 yards from the protected species.

Right whales are as large as a bus but can be tough to spot because they are dark with no dorsal fin, and they often swim slowly at or just below the water's surface.

These "urban" whales stick close to the coast, and as a result, their migration routes intersect with busy shipping lanes and ports, making the whales vulnerable to vessel strikes. Ship strikes and entanglement in fixed fishing gear are the two greatest threats to the recovery of North Atlantic right whales.

Last year, 19 calves were born in Southeast waters, their only known calving grounds. The year before, a record 40 calves were counted.

The 2009-10 season was a slow one for the whale survey team whose winter base is St. Simons Island, said Patricia Naessig, who heads up that EcoHealth Alliance team. The number of whales spotted last year in the area from Sapelo to Cumberland dropped 75 percent compared to the year before, she said.

"We think that it was quite likely connected to the low water temperatures that occurred off the coast of Georgia last season," Naessig wrote in an e-mail. "A very high number of whales were still migrating through Georgia waters last season, but we suspect that the cold water temperatures caused the whales to continue heading down to Florida waters and not remain in Georgia waters for extended periods."

The number of right whales recorded in their summer feeding grounds in the Bay of Fundy this summer was also low, said Clay George, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. The New England Aquarium reported that 53 individual whales were seen, including only five mother/calf pairs.

"We presume that their prey of (tiny crustaceans called) copepods was not there in the numbers expected," he said. "Most of the sightings were small groups. It's concerning because the females need multiple years of good foraging to calve."

George and other DNR staffers prepared themselves last week for the right whale migration by practicing techniques used to remove fishing gear from entangled whales.

"It's important because they've found two newly entangled whales in New England over the last two months," George said.
Report a right whale sighting
NOAA Fisheries Service encourages people to report sightings of dead, injured, or entangled whales to NOAA at 877-433-8299.
Boaters must keep at least 500 yards away from right whales. Federal law requires vessels 65 feet long and greater to slow to 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, including the calving and nursery area in the southeastern United States. Speed restrictions are in place in various places along the mid Atlantic from Nov. 1 through April 30, and in the southeast U.S. calving area from Nov. 15 through April 15. For more information on seasonal ship speed restrictions, visit"

{Press} NOAA Enforces Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule

NOAA | November 16, 2010

Vessels charged for allegedly speeding where endangered whales calve, feed, migrate

NOAA today announced it is issuing notices of violations proposing civil administrative penalties against seven vessels for allegedly violating seasonal speed limits designed to protect one of the most endangered whales in the world. These civil administrative penalties are the first assessed since the Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule was enacted on Dec. 9, 2008.

Because there are as few as 350 North Atlantic right whales still in existence, the whales are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule restricts vessels of 65 feet or greater to speeds of 10 knots or less in seasonal management areas along the East Coast.

The NOVAs issued this week focus on vessels that allegedly traveled multiple times through the seasonal management areas for right whales at speeds well in excess of the 10 knots allowed under the regulations.

Penalty assessments in these NOVAs range from $16,500 to $49,500, depending on the frequency of the violations. The ships' owners and operators have 30 days to respond to NOVAs by paying the assessed penalty, seeking to have it modified, or requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge.

These seasonal management areas went into effect Nov. 1 in areas from Rhode Island to Brunswick, Ga., and went into effect yesterday for areas from Brunswick, Ga., to St. Augustine, Fla. Designed to reduce the chances of right whales being injured or killed by ships, the speed restrictions are based on the migration pattern of right whales and are in effect through April 30 each year. Maps of these areas and a compliance guide are available at

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) focused on outreach during the rule’s first season, sending letters to alleged violators to educate them about the new federal regulation. The Notices of Violation and Assessment (NOVAs) issued by NOAA’s Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation yesterday involve alleged violations of the speed restrictions during the second season the regulations were in place, November 2009 through April 2010.

“Right whales are a highly endangered and important species,” said special agent Stuart Cory, OLE's national program manager for protected resources. “It is important to remind those that use and share the same habitat as right whales that this rule was put into place to protect these mammals. Compliance with this rule is one way NOAA is striving to prevent right whales from extinction. The species' recovery is dependent upon the protection of each remaining whale.”

The mission of NOAA OLE is to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations enacted to conserve and protect our nation's marine resources. To report a suspected violation, contact the NOAA OLE national hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us on Facebook at"

Monday, November 15, 2010

{Press} Protecting Whales From the Sky: EcoHealth Alliance's Annual Aerial Surveys of Endangered Right Whale Populations

PR Newswire (Press Release) | November 15, 2010

NEW YORK, Nov. 15, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust), is gearing up for the organization's annual aerial surveys for the protection of endangered North Atlantic right whales. For the fourth consecutive year, the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA) has pledged up to $200,000 per year for a total of five years to increase aerial surveys for the protection of endangered right whales off the coast of S.C. Aerial surveys provide valuable information to wildlife conservationists and researchers, including location and photo-identification of right whales during their winter calving season off the Southeastern coast of the U.S. "Through productive partnerships, we can develop new port business while also enhancing our natural environment," said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority. "We'll continue to grow in a responsible way."

"Right whale populations were nearly hunted to extinction by whalers long ago, and they've been fighting their way back from the brink ever since," said Dr. Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance. "With fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales alive today, EcoHealth Alliance's Aquatic Conservation Program is a key factor in ensuring the ongoing viability of this beautiful, critically endangered mammal."

North Atlantic right whales migrate from November through April to give birth to their calves off of the Southeast coast, which is the only known calving ground for the species. Aerial surveys give the EcoHealth Alliance team a bird's eye view of whales in relation to the heavily trafficked coastline navigated by cargo, military, and recreational boats. Flights are conducted an average of two days a week during the best weather conditions; the teams log an average of 600 hours of flight time at the conclusion of the calving season in April 2010.

"During our aerial surveys, we document the births of new calves, record sightings of returning whales, and alert shipping officials about the whereabouts of these slow moving mammals, to help keep them out of harm's way," said Cynthia R. Taylor, associate vice president of the Aquatic Conservation Program at EcoHealth Alliance. "The biggest threats to right whales are from ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear, so we immediately alert rescue crews when we see whales that are in trouble."

Survey flights originate from Mt. Pleasant regional airport near Charleston, S.C. from November 15, 2010 through April 15, 2011 and from the Malcolm McKinnon airport on St. Simons Island, Ga. from December 31, 2010 through March 31, 2011. EcoHealth Alliance's aerial survey team in South Carolina, which covers the airspace from Cape Romain, S.C. to Fripp Island, S.C., includes team leader Dianna Schulte, Jonathan Gwalthney and Melanie White. The aerial survey team in Georgia, which covers the airspace from Sapelo Island, GA to Cumberland Island, GA includes team leader Patricia Naessig, Julianne Kearney, Lisa Barry, and Ashley Dobrovich.

EcoHealth Alliance partners in its efforts with The South Carolina Ports Authority, The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, who provide funding annually for the intensive survey effort. For more information about this EcoHealth Alliance program, visit

About EcoHealth Alliance

Building on 40 years of innovative science, EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust) is a non-profit international conservation organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and safeguarding human health from the emergence of disease. The organization develops ways to combat the effects of damaged ecosystems on human and wildlife health. It specializes in saving biodiversity in human-dominated ecosystems where ecological health is most at risk from habitat loss, species imbalance, pollution and other environmental issues. EcoHealth Alliance scientists also identify and examine the causes affecting the health of global ecosystems in the U.S. and more than 20 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance's strength is founded on innovations in research, education, training, and support from a global network of EcoHealth Alliance conservation partners. For more information, visit EcoHealth Alliance is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization.

About The South Carolina State Ports Authority

The South Carolina State Ports Authority, established by the state's General Assembly in 1942, owns and operates public seaport facilities in Charleston and Georgetown, handling international commerce valued at more than $62 billion annually while receiving no direct taxpayer subsidy."

{Press} Team Seeks Whale Mating Ground

Fenceviewer | November 15, 2010

"BAR HARBOR — A joint international team of right whale scientists from the New England Aquarium in Boston and the Canadian Whale Institute in New Brunswick will be conducting surveys in search of a potential mating ground for right whales in the Gulf of Maine this winter. Senior scientist Dr. Moira Brown will be leading the research team on four survey cruises from Mount Desert Island out to an area around Jordan Basin and Outer Falls.

An international team that will include researchers from Bar Harbor plans to launch a search from a Bar Harbor Whale Watch boat to search for a spot where northern right whales mate in winter.

An international team that will include researchers from Bar Harbor plans to launch a search from a Bar Harbor Whale Watch boat to search for a spot where northern right whales mate in winter. —PHOTO COURTESY ZACK KLYVER

“This is really quite amazing. That the unknown right whale mating ground might be right in our backyard. This is kind of like a Holy Grail for whale science,” said Sean Todd, director of whale research at College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale program. Researchers from Allied Whale will join the expedition.

“The Northeast Fisheries Science Center large whale aerial survey team from Woods Hole has been sighting large aggregations of right whales in this area since 2004 in the months of November, December and January. “This is the time of the year we think right whale mating takes place. We feel it is very important for us to finally get out to this area and try and determine if this is indeed the right whale mating ground,” Dr. Brown said.

Dr. Brown, who has been active in right whale research for nearly three decades, claims these research cruises could yield very interesting results. There is hope these boat surveys could provide important answers to a number of long standing mysteries surrounding right whales. Two critical questions have eluded researchers studying North Atlantic Right Whales. Where is the missing mating ground? Where do most of the male whales go during the winter?

“We have long speculated that there was an undiscovered mating ground and have wondered where many of our adult right whales go. In the past, most of the adult population seems to disappear during the winter months,” Dr. Brown said.

Funding for this research is coming from the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, TD Bank and the Canadian Wildlife Federation of the Canadian Whale Institute. The Canadian Whale Institute is chartering a 112-foot jet-powered catamaran whale watch boat and crew from Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

“We are excited to play a part and believe this boat is perfectly suited for this whale research project that will take us out 50 to 60 miles offshore. It will be important to have a fast stable boat with great visibility, so we can get out when the weather clears, sight whales from far away, and return to port quickly when we lose daylight,” boat captain Matt Ketchen said.

Dr. Brown added, “Ideal weather conditions are a must. Our plan is to pick and choose the best days so we can effectively conduct research with any right whales we encounter.”

Research plans include photo ID, biopsy and collecting fecal samples, which may allow scientists to examine hormones and help characterize the sexes and reproductive status of the whales on Jordan Basin and assess if they are sexually active.

The North Atlantic Right Whale is the most endangered large whale population in the world. New England Aquarium scientists, who annually follow them from the Bay of Fundy to Florida and Georgia, presently estimate the population to be about 450 individuals.

“We are hoping to have representatives from the Maine Lobster Fishing Industry join us on some cruises – as we know they have a strong interest in knowing where right whales are located and understanding the science,” said Dr. Brown.

Researchers from Allied Whale, the marine mammal group at College of the Atlantic and researchers from the Maine Department of Marine Resources in Boothbay Harbor will be joining the surveys to help locate right whales. “We will be taking along seabird scientists too, as this will be an opportunity to learn more about pelagic seabird abundance in an area of the Gulf of Maine not often visited by scientists,” said Dr. Brown."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

{Flight} 13 November 2010 Cashes Ledge

We found 17 right whales out on Cashes Ledge today!

{Press} Mariners warned to keep eye out for migrating whales | November 13, 2010

"November marks the start of the North Atlantic right whale calving season, and mariners are reminded to keep watch for the rare whales as they migrate along the East Coast.

NOAA Fisheries Service announced the start of the calving season, which begins Monday and continues through April 15, and asks boaters in the southeast United States to report sightings of the endangered whale and to keep a distance of at least 500 yards from the protected species.

Scientists estimate as few as 350 right whales remain, making it one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world.

Each winter, pregnant right whales migrate southward from their feeding grounds off Canada and New England to the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia and northeastern Florida to give birth and nurse their young.

These southern waters are the only known calving area for the species, NOAA said.
Right whales are dark with no dorsal fin, and they often swim slowly at or just below the water’s surface. Despite their large size they can be difficult to see, and a slight textural difference on the water’s surface is often the only clue that a whale is present.

Ship strikes and entanglement in fixed fishing gear are the two greatest threats to the recovery of North Atlantic right whales, NOAA said.

Information from aerial surveys and underwater buoys is used to alert mariners of the presence of right whales, enabling ships to alter their course to avoid potential collisions with the whales.
North Atlantic right whales are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Federal law prohibits approaching or remaining within 500 yards of right whales, either by watercraft or aircraft.

Federal law also requires vessels 65 feet long and greater to slow to 10 knots or less in Seasonal Management Areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, including the calving and nursery area in the southeastern U.S.

Speed restrictions are in place in various places along the mid Atlantic through April 30, and in the southeast U.S. calving area from Monday through April 15. For more information on seasonal ship speed restrictions, visit

NOAA Fisheries Service encourages people to report sightings of dead, injured, or entangled whales to NOAA at 877-433-8299."

Saturday, November 06, 2010

{Flight} 06 November 2010 Jordan Basin

Sighted two right whales on Jordan Basin today including one juvenile. Otherwise was pretty quiet out there...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

{Press} Right Whale seasonal management is in effect | November 3, 2010

"The right whale migration and calving season is beginning along the Atlantic seaboard, says the Jacksonville Marine Transportation Exchange

The right whale ship strike reduction Seasonal Management Areas and their associated speed restrictions of 10 knots became effective for Mid-Atlantic coast ports from Long Island Sound to Savannah on November 1 and remain in place through April 30, 2011.

Specific dimensions for the Seasonal Management Area and the applicable rules are available on NOAA Fisheries Service Compliance Guide along with additional important information from NOAA at

For vessels operating further south, the Southeast U.S. Seasonal Management Area which includes the ports of Brunswick, Fernandina and Jacksonville, becomes effective on November 15 and remains in place through April 15. In addition to the speed restrictions, vessels operating in this area must also comply with the Mandatory Ship Reporting System rules.

Mariners are also strongly encouraged to utilize the recommended two-way routes to reduce the likelihood of vessel strikes in those areas where routes have been established off Brunswick, Fernandina and Jacksonville.

NOAA Fisheries Service has prepared Shipboard Right Whale Protection Program loose-leaf notebook that includes general guidelines for vessels operating where right whales may be present and includes the latest version of the Prudent Mariner’s Guide to Right Whale Protection CD. Copies of these notebooks should soon be available at the Marine Exchange in Jacksonville, Maritime Assn. in Savannah and Charleston, and at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Wilmington, N.C."

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

{Press} NOAA study: Fish rules don't jeopardize whales

The Gloucester Daily Times | Richard Gaines | November 1, 2010

"The system for managing the New England groundfishery "is likely to adversely effect, but not jeopardize" the four endangered species of whales and the four endangered species of turtles that swim in waters fished primarily with bottom trawls and gillnets, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found.

NOAA's study, released last Friday, focuses on the impact on the endangered whales and turtles by Amendment 16, the groundfish plan that covers 15 species, and seven other more narrowly focused plans — for lobster, monkfish, dogfish, skate, squid, mackerel and butterfish, summer flounder, scup, black sea bass and bluefish.

The findings are good news for all concerned, including the fishing industry, according to Terri Frade, spokeswoman for the New England Fishery Science Center at Woods Hole.

"It's positive in that it reflects the improved condition of the right whale, which is endangered but its numbers are going up rather than dropping," she said.

"The big question is, is the plan likely to result in jeopardy (to the endangered mammals)?" said Mary Colligan, NOAA's assistant regional administrator for protected resources. "If we find jeopardy, how do we avoid that?

"Because it is not likely to jeopardize (the endangered species of whales and turtles)," she said, "no alternatives are required."

As recently as 2001, the groundfish plan at the time included seasonal area management and gear modifications to combat findings that the endangered species swimming with the prized food fish in the waters fished off the East Coast from Maine through the Carolinas were in harm's way, Frade said.

In 1999, according to the groundfish plan analysis, "a right whale mortality was attributed to entanglement to gillnet gear," though NOAA was unable to determine the origins of the gear. The incident led to a full review of the impact of the groundfish plan and a finding that the fishery jeopardized the continued existence of right whales."

NOAA is required to re-initiate a study after creation of — or major alternations to — a fishery management plan.

Frade said the minimum population estimate of right whales is 361, with 39 calves born last year, the most since 1993.

According to NOAA's study, "the annual take of loggerhead sea turtles in bottom otter trawl gear for the period 2000-2004 was estimated to be 43 and three for gillnet gear used in the Northeast multispecies fishery."

The projected mortality of loggerheads accidentally taken in trawl gear is 19 of 43, and two of three from gillnets.

The projected mortality represents no more than 0.05 percent of the females, the consultation report concluded.

According to the report, trawling and gillnetting accounted for 87 percent of all landings in 2007, the last year for which figures were reported in the study.

Experts estimate there are about 15,000 loggerhead turtles in the seas.

The biological opinion study covers endangered right whales as well as humpback, fin and Sei whales and leatherback, Kemp's ridley sea turtles, great sea turtles and leatherback turtles as well as loggerheads.

The finding that the fishery plans "may affect" the endangered whales and turtles requires NOAA to take a series of "reasonable and prudent measures" to minimize impacts.

These measures include "ensuring that any sea turtles taken in multispecies fishing gear are handled in such a way as minimize stress to the animal and increase its survival rate."

{Press} NOAA: Ship Speed Restrictions to Protect Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales

NOAA Press Release | November 1, 2010

"NOAA has announced seasonal vessel speed restrictions along the U.S. East Coast where the endangered right whale travels to protect them from being injured or killed by colliding with ships.

The restrictions—the same as imposed last year— require vessels 65 feet or longer to travel at 10 knots or less in key right whale areas, reducing the chances ships will collide with whales.

“These speed restrictions are in place when we know right whales are in certain areas, where they are vulnerable to being hit by ships,” said Eric Schwaab, NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator. “We implement speed restrictions every year, based on what our scientists know about the locations and times of year that right whales are calving, feeding and migrating.”

North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered whales in the world, with only 300 to 400 in existence. Their slow movements and time spent at the surface near the coast make right whales highly vulnerable to being struck by ships. Shipping lanes into East Coast ports cut across their migration routes, making collisions with ships one of their primary threats.

The existing 10-knot speed restriction extends out to 20 nautical miles around major mid-Atlantic ports. According to NOAA researchers, about 83 percent of right whale sightings in the mid-Atlantic region occur within 20 nautical miles of shore. The speed restriction also applies in waters off New England and the southeastern U.S., where whales gather seasonally. A two-page guide to complying with the restrictions and additional information on reducing vessel collisions is available at

The seasonal speed restrictions being announced today apply in the following approximate locations from November 1 through April 30, times when whales are known to be in these areas:

* Block Island Sound
* Ports of New York/New Jersey
* Entrance to the Delaware Bay
* Entrance to the Chesapeake Bay
* Ports of Morehead City and Beaufort, N.C., and a continuous area from 20 miles from shore between Wilmington, N.C. to south of Savannah, Ga..

In addition, from November 15 through April 15, the same restrictions apply in an area extending from north of Brunswick, Ga. to south of Jacksonville, Fla..

NOAA routinely calls for temporary voluntary speed limits in other areas or times when a group of three or more right whales is confirmed.

Ship speed restriction rules are part of NOAA’s broader effort to help the right whale population recover by protecting their habitat. NOAA efforts include surveying whale habitat by aircraft, mandatory ship reporting systems that provide advisories and information on right whale locations to mariners, modified shipping lanes into Boston, recommending shipping routes into other coastal areas to prevent collisions, and regulations to prevent entanglement in fishing gear.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Find us on Facebook."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

{Flight} 21 October 2010 Georges Shoal

Came across one right whale today on Jeffrey's Ledge, but none out on Georges Shoal. Only thing we saw out there at all was one basking shark...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

{Press} Threatened right whales may get wider berth

Cape Cod Times | Mary Ann Bragg | October 09, 2010

"The rare and treasured right whales that feed in waters off Cape Cod in late winter and early spring may have their protected grounds expanded as part of a federal process designed to protect populations of endangered animals.

Scientific research shows that it may be necessary to expand three East Coast calving and feeding areas for North Atlantic right whales, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced this week.

The decision to expand the habitat boundaries would come in the second half of 2011. Then there would be a public review of the proposal that would take several months, said Teri Frady, fisheries service spokesperson.

The announcement was spawned by the efforts of four animal conservation groups that filed a petition in 2009, then a federal lawsuit in May looking to widen North Atlantic right whale habitats along the East Coast. The groups are The Humane Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

New technology and methodologies that track whales, such as acoustic buoys, satellite telemetry and aerial surveys, have shown the marine mammals regularly use wider swaths than the federal limits established in 1994, said Sharon Young of Sagamore Beach, the Marine Issues Field Director of The Humane Society of the United States.

The three current seasonal right whale habitats are the calving grounds off Florida and Georgia and the feeding grounds in Cape Cod Bay and the Great South Channel off Massachusetts.

The conservation groups want to double the size of the calving grounds, expanding them to areas off North Carolina. They want to at least triple the size of the feeding grounds, expanding them to the Canadian border. The groups also want seasonal protections for the whale's migration path along the East Coast, said Young.

Cape Cod Bay, in particular, continues to be an important habitat and also a laboratory for fine-tuning management practices to protect right whales, said Regina Asmutis-Silvia of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in Plymouth. State officials, for example, have cleaned up unattended fishing gear in the bay.

"I think it's a really good template for what a habitat can be," Asmutis-Silvia said.

There are estimated to be between 300 and 400 North Atlantic right whales living along the East Coast, according to federal data. The whales have been listed as endangered through the federal Endangered Species Act since the early 1970s..

Generally, whales contribute in many ways to an ocean's ecosystem, including recent research that sperm whale excrement fertilizes aquatic plants that absorb the carbon linked to greenhouse gases and global warming, said Asmutis-Silvia.

"We were gratified that the agency agreed to expand the habitats," said Young. "They agreed they would be proposing new boundaries next year. We'll have to wait to see what they propose."

Along the East Coast, the North Atlantic right whales have made slow population gains in the last half-dozen years, said Mason Weinrich, executive director of the Whale Center of New England in Gloucester. He attributes the gains to an increase in calves and new rules and procedures that have slowed ship speeds and helped prevent fishing line entanglements. "I'm cautiously optimistic," Weinrich said.

Expanding the whales' critical habitat boundaries by itself would do very little, Weinrich said. But expansion would be an important step to ensure that future ocean projects and developments along the East Coast do no harm, based on the latest scientific evidence of where right whales truly birth and feed, he said.

"One is a step to the other," Weinrich said."

{Press} North Atlantic Right Whales to Get Expanded Critical Habitat

Environment News Service | October 6, 2010

"WASHINGTON, DC, October 6, 2010 (ENS) - In response to a lawsuit filed by conservation groups, the NOAA's Fisheries Service agreed Tuesday to revise critical habitat designations for North Atlantic right whales. The critically endangered species numbers fewer than 400 whales after centuries of commercial whaling.

The move comes after a federal lawsuit was filed by The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

The lawsuit challenged the agency's failure to respond to the groups' August 2009 petition, which sought to expand current critical habitat protections.

The agency designated three critical habitat areas in U.S. waters for these whales in 1994 - calving grounds off Florida and Georgia and feeding grounds in Cape Cod Bay and the Great South Channel, both off Massachusetts.
North Atlantic right whales (Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries Service)

The groups argue that these protected areas are inadequate to allow the whales to recover.

The Endangered Species Act requires that the government respond to petitions within 90 days after they are received, but the Fisheries Service did not respond to the August 2009 petition until this week, after a lawsuit was filed to compel the agency's response.

In its announcement the Fisheries Service said it received the petition "while conducting an ongoing analysis and evaluation of new information available since the 1994 designation that indicates the designation should be revised."

The Service said it expects to propose the critical habitat changes in the second half of 2011.

"We are delighted the administration is moving to protect critical habitat for right whales without further delay," said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for The Humane Society of the United States. "This is a crucial step forward on the path to recovery for one of the world's most endangered animals."

Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said, "Critical habitat ensures precautions are taken when potentially dangerous activities like oil drilling and commercial shipping are being planned and carried out."

Right whales are large baleen whales that grow to between 45 and 55 feet in length and can weigh up to 70 tons. Calves are 13 to 15 feet in length at birth.

Right whales migrate from their calving grounds off the southeastern United States to their feeding grounds off the northeastern United States and Canada. Adult female right whales reach reproductive maturity at around nine to 10 years old and give birth to one calf every four years.

The only known calving ground for North Atlantic right whales is in shallow waters off the coast of Georgia and Florida, yet the groups point out that births occur outside of the area currently designated as critical habitat.

In 2008, 18 of the 19 newborn calves documented were born in areas just outside of the protected area.

"Protecting key calving and migration habitat is essential to the continued survival of this species," said Sarah Uhlemann, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "With a population of only 400 animals, every whale - and every square mile of protected habitat - counts."

Every year female right whales die from being hit by ships or entangled in commercial fishing gear in unprotected areas of the busy Atlantic Coastal waters.

The Fisheries Service explains that "critical habitat is an area that contains physical or biological features that may require special management and that are essential to the conservation of the species."

"You can't protect a species without also protecting what it needs to survive," said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, senior biologist for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

"Current critical habitat boundaries are akin to protecting our children in certain areas of their schools and specific rooms in their homes with no protection for them as they move between home and school. What we need is full protection in the areas where right whales feed, calve and the migratory route between those areas."

The Fisheries Service has taken both regulatory and non-regulatory steps to reduce the threat of ship collisions to whales, including:

* Mandatory vessel speed restrictions in Seasonal Management Areas
* Voluntary speed reductions in Dynamic Management Areas and a seasonal Area To Be Avoided
* Recommended shipping routes
* Modification of international shipping lanes
* Aircraft surveys and right whale alerts
* Ship speed advisories
* Mandatory Ship Reporting Systems
* Outreach and Education

To address entanglement in fishing gear, the Service has established the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team. This team developed a plan to reduce the incidental serious injury and mortality of right, humpback, fin, and minke whales in gillnet and lobster trap fisheries."

{Press} Feds to propose changes to whale protection areas

Associated Press | October 5, 2010

"BOSTON — Federal regulators say they'll propose changes to three areas off the East Coast where special rules protect rare right whales from becoming entangled in fishing gear or struck by ships.

The whale protection areas are a calving ground for the North Atlantic Right Whale off Georgia and Florida and two feeding grounds off Massachusetts. Certain types of fishing gear are forbidden in these areas and there are vessel speed restrictions when whales are around.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday that evidence gathered since the areas were established in 1994 — including the number of whales and where they were found — show the program may need to be revised. The agency expects to make recommendations next year."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

{Flight} 03 October 2010 Jeffrey's Ledge

It's been along time since we flew a right whale survey, and it was really nice to be back up in the air! Our airplane (a NOAA Twin Otter) has been assisting efforts in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill since the end of May, and just returned to Hyannis last week. We flew out to Jeffrey's Ledge where we spotted two right whales in a surface active group.

Hopefully we get some good weather so we can get out there again soon and see where the rest of the right whales are hiding!

Friday, October 01, 2010

{Press} Warning system keeps ships, right whales apart

By Doug Fraser | Doug Fraser | September 30, 2010

"PROVINCETOWN — The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary display at the Cape Cod National Seashore’s Province Lands Visitor Center is surprisingly modest, with computerized charts and an accompanying video.

Those who stop by to see it are looking into a portal that reveals how private industry, scientists, researchers and the government can work together to benefit the environment — in this case, to prevent ships from hitting right whales.

The new warning system is the first in the world to show, in real time, the general presence of endangered whales as well as ships in one of the mammals’ most populous gathering spots.

Scientist and sanctuary research coordinator David Wiley last year garnered the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal, the agency’s top honor, for his role in relocating busy international shipping lanes around the Outer Cape to minimize whale strikes and for the sanctuary project publicized in the Province Lands exhibit.

The display shows shipping lanes that bend around the Cape and make a beeline for Boston, cutting through the heart of the sanctuary. Ships make about 3,400 trips across the sanctuary each year. A brief video with whales, ships and satellites helps explain graphics on an adjacent chart showing the ships moving in and out of Boston and the right whales that also might be in the area.

In a telephone interview this week, Wiley recalled that in 2007, the hard-won agreement with the international shipping industry that shifted shipping lanes to protect whales was suddenly jeopardized when Excelerate Energy and Suez Energy decided to locate two deepwater liquefied natural gas "ports" close to the sanctuary and the reconfigured marine highway.

LNG ships are among the fastest and largest vessels afloat, he explained. In the case of whales, it is speed that kills. Slowing vessels by just a few knots dramatically increases the whales’ chances of surviving or avoiding a collision."

Friday, September 17, 2010

{Update} NEFSC 2010 Results Summary


NOAA Fisheries Service
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
Woods Hole, MA

Christin Khan, Tim Cole, Peter Duley, Allison Henry, Jennifer Gatzke

• Conducted 51 surveys from Oct 2009 – May 2010
(no surveys June - Sept 2010)
• Surveyed 11,685 nautical miles of trackline
• Observed right whales on 29 surveys
• Sighted 558 right whales (including repeats of individuals)
• Documented maximum aggregation size of 39

Monday, August 30, 2010

{Press} Right whale found dead in Digby County

Digby Courier | August 24th, 2010 | Leanne Delong

"Third right whale found dead in three weeks along Atlantic seaboard"

"A North Atlantic right whale was found dead on a beach two kilometers west of Sandy Cove, Digby County, N.S. on Aug. 13.

Fisheries and Oceans met with a local fishing vessel, which hauled the whale to Gulliver’s Cove.

A group from Holland College on Prince Edward Island, including a wildlife pathologist, and a second group from a whale institute on Campobello Island performed a necropsy on Aug. 15, said DFO fisheries officer Philip Bouma.

The researchers started the necropsy at 9 a.m. and stopped 7:30 p.m. that night and then wrapped up by 4 p.m. the next day.

New England Aquarium senior scientist Moira Brown was among those from Campobello Island, and said the whale was about 45 feet long and male.

“There were fractures in the skull and in the rostrum, the upper part of the head and also in the ear bones,” Brown said.

Samples were taken back to Holland College to determine if the fractures occurred before or after the whale died.

“We will try to see if we can match this whale to an individual in our catalogue and we’ll take skin samples to see if we can match the whale with its DNA. If we’ve already sampled it we are probably able to match it,” Brown added.

“It was quite interesting to see,” said onlooker Wanda VanTassell. “They were really good, they’d answer questions people had.”

The DFO’s Bouma said this was the third right whale to be found dead in three weeks along the Atlantic seaboard.

The numbers of right whales are up from 10 years ago, but there are only 450 of them now, he said."

{Press} Dead right whale washes ashore in Washington County

Bangor Daily News | Bill Trotter | August 21, 2010

"MACHIAS, Maine — More than a month after it was first reported, the carcass of an endangered right whale has washed up along the Washington County shore.

The whale, a female between 2 and 3 years old, was found last week, according to Sean Todd, director of Allied Whale at College of the Atlantic. The carcass has two large gash marks on its underside, but Todd cautioned on Thursday that these marks may have been made after the whale died, while it was still floating at sea.

“It was first spotted [floating in the Gulf of Maine] one month ago, and it was decomposing then,” Todd said. “It is now very decomposed.”

Researchers have yet to fully examine the whale’s carcass, according to Todd.

At the request of Allied Whale, Bangor Daily News agreed not to disclose the whale’s location in order to reduce the risk of anyone tampering with the carcass, which remains where it was found.

Todd said the whale’s skeleton remains intact and that researchers plan to clean it, piece it together and donate it to a museum.

Todd said a necropsy has not been performed on the whale carcass and that a cause of death has not yet been determined. Because right whales are listed as an endangered species by the federal government, investigators will try to determine whether anyone may be responsible for the whale's death. Only about 400 right whales remain in North Atlantic waters. Because of their low reproduction rates, scientists are concerned they may go extinct.

“When a dead right whale is found, the stakes go up,” Todd said. “Whenever an [endangered] animal dies, there is always an investigation into the cause of death.”

After receiving reports about a floating whale carcass, researchers with Allied Whale found it a few weeks ago floating at sea 25 miles southeast of Great Wass Island, according to Todd. Allied Whale began towing it back to shore with its boat Borealis but had to cut it loose for safety reasons when weather worsened, he said. The whale, about 25 feet long, is estimated to weigh approximately 25,000 pounds. Even though Borealis has a 400-horsepower engine, for about 10 hours it could only move at about 2 knots, or less than 2½ mph, while towing the whale.

“These things are very heavy,” Todd said.

The Coast Guard assisted in hunting for the whale the next day, but with no success.

“We spent three days trying to find that animal,” he said.

It reappeared last week when a kayaker came across the whale’s body washed up on a beach, according to Todd."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

{Press} Whale Crossing | Melissa Gaskill

"When a container ship strikes a 60-ton right whale, no one on board usually notices. The whale, however, may die from massive trauma, hemorrhage, and broken bones. Ship propellers slice whales up “like a loaf of bread,” says Michael Moore of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

North Atlantic right whales—one of the world’s most endangered species, with only about 400 living in the wild—are particularly vulnerable. They feed, breed, and migrate along the Eastern Seaboard, where, as the map at right shows, they encounter increasingly heavy ship traffic. In 2008, eastern U.S. ports saw 23,362 calls from large oceangoing vessels, and that number is expected to roughly double by 2023.

In response, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are testing a range of creative ideas to reduce ship strikes, including aerial surveys, whale-sighting hotlines, acoustic buoys that detect whale calls, and new shipping lanes that direct heavy traffic away from whale habitats.

But perhaps NOAA’s most important step, taken in December 2008, was mandating speed restrictions in vulnerable areas. The probability that a strike will cause serious injury or death increases with ship speed—from roughly 45 percent at 10 knots to more than 90 percent at 17 knots—and targeted speed restrictions have reduced deaths of other species, like manatees. Preliminary data suggest that the rule may be working. But because of pressure from the shipping industry—which argued that the restrictions would cause costly delays—the Bush administration ensured that the rule would expire in 2013.

That may be too soon for the whales. According to the New England Aquarium, ship strikes and fishing-gear entanglement until recently were killing the whales faster than they could reproduce. “Laws aside, there are fundamental reasons not to knowingly and willingly destroy a species,” says Moore. “Once it’s gone, it is forever.”

Monday, August 16, 2010

{Press} Scientist sees hope for rare right whales | August 4, 2010

"HALIFAX—A scientist who studies rare North Atlantic right whales says measures aimed at protecting them could be having the desired effect.

Amy Knowlton of the New England Aquarium says there are early signs fewer of the animals are dying from ship strikes — one of the large animals’ greatest threats.

The United States and Canada have both introduced initiatives to divert ships around the whales or slow vessels down when the animals have been spotted.

Knowlton says a dead whale discovered last month in U.S. waters appears to have died from a ship strike.

But that was the first one she was aware of since 2008 when some of the protections came into effect.

The research scientist says more needs to be done to protect the remaining 400 whales from fishing gear that can ensnare them and cause lethal infections."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

{Press} Scientists say fishing gear killed right whale found off Cape May | Michael Miller | July 14, 2010

"A right whale found dead June 29 off Cape May was killed by entanglement in some kind of fishing or boating gear, federal officials said.

The adult male was towed to a Delaware Seashore State Park near Rehoboth Beach, Del., and a necropsy began soon after it arrived on July 1.

The results show the whale died from injuries it suffered after getting wrapped in gear, which came off and was lost while the animal was being towed to shore.

“It died from long-term entanglement. It was carrying the gear a long time. One flipper was severely damaged and there was damage to the head. It got sicker and weaker,” said Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Right whales pass New Jersey twice a year as they migrate between feeding grounds in Canada and waters off Florida where their calves are born.

The North Atlantic population is nearly extinct, making each of the estimated 325 to 400 surviving mammals critically important for the future of the species. These whales are especially susceptible to boat strikes and entanglements in ropes and nets that get caught in baleen they use to filter krill and shrimp.

The source of the gear was not identified, Frady said. It fell off when the whale was towed.

“This population does not seem to have had a substantial rebound. We are making progress, even though it’s slow. It’s hard to estimate because there are so few animals,” Frady said.

Researchers in Massachusetts are studying how a network of sound buoys might be used to steer boats around whales in busy shipping lanes.

The U.S. Coast Guard alerts boaters when it gets reports about nearby whales. But the sonar buoys could provide greater geographic detail to help commercial boats avoid the whales.

“For the most part, their habitats are very near shore for a whale. They’re living in the same area that boaters use. They don’t get out of the way of boats. We don’t know why that is,” she said.

Historically, whalers prized right whales because they swam slowly and floated when killed. But Frady said relatively little is known about the whales, especially the males that tend to cover bigger geographic areas.

Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, said a right whale was regularly spotted off local beaches years ago.

“We would get panicked calls from fishermen who were afraid the whale was going to beach,” he said. “They have an underwater map of our coastal waters. For many years you’d see the same right whale stopping at Ninth Street in Ocean City and scratching its belly on the jetties. It would do the same thing in Brigantine.”

Unlike other imperiled marine species that are on the brink of extinction because of unregulated fishing in foreign countries, right whale mortality is largely an American problem. This population is only found along the North American coastline.

“It is our responsibility and our problem,” Schoelkopf said.

Federal regulators have set speed limits for commercial ships in some areas and require modified fishing gear that breaks away to prevent entanglements. But Schoelkopf said enforcement is too lax.

And he fears the whales will encounter problems with the British Petroleum oil spill this fall when they return to Florida for the winter."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

{Press} North Atlantic right whales struggling to make themselves heard, new research suggests

L.A. Unleashed | Lindsay Barnett | July 13, 2010

"Much like humans struggling to make themselves heard by companions in a loud restaurant, North Atlantic right whales must raise their voices to compensate for the increasing volume of ambient noise in the ocean, according to new research.

North Atlantic right whales, an endangered species, live primarily in the waters off eastern Canada and the U.S. The whales frequent areas with a high level of commercial, naval and recreational shipping traffic, according to Susan Parks, lead author of the study. Compounding the problem, Parks says, is the fact that commercial ships generate noise at the same frequency as the whales' calls.

The study, which has been published in the July issue of Biology Letters, followed 14 North Atlantic right whales living in Canada's Bay of Fundy. It found that the whales "are compensating for increased ocean noise by going up in volume when they call to one another, which is basically the same thing that humans do when they're trying to talk in really noisy bars," according to Joseph Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society at UC Davis, who was not involved in the study.

The research brings up new and troubling questions. Since right whales rely far more on sound than sight or other senses, will increased noise levels eventually force them to remain closer together in order to communicate with one another? If so, scientists speculate, the area where the whales mate and search for food could shrink substantially."

Thursday, July 08, 2010

{Press} Right whales yell over the ocean din | Michael Marshall | July 7, 2010

To cope with the blitzing level of noise in today's oceans, North Atlantic right whales are calling louder to each other. It is the first time a baleen whale has been observed compensating for the din in this way.

Susan Parks of Pennsylvania State University in University Park and colleagues set out to record both the whales' calls and the background noise they have to cope with. To do this, they attached audio data recorders to the whales.

Parks and her colleagues took to boats to approach surfacing whales, using poles to lower the recorders onto the animals' backs. The recorders were held in place by suction cups programmed to drop off after a few hours and float to the surface, allowing the team to collect the recorded data.

The team repeated the study over three seasons in the Gulf of Maine, where the whales come to feed in summer. In total the group recorded 107 calls from 14 whales.

The underwater background noise ranged from 92 to 143 decibels – between the volume of a conversation and a hair dryer. The whales changed their calls in line with the background noise, taking them from 120 dB to just under 150 dB – just as humans do when talking in a loud room.

"The whales have natural mechanisms for coping with noise," says Parks.

The main source of the background noise in the Gulf of Maine is commercial shipping – particularly coming in and out of Boston – which produces a constant rumble or roar.

It is often reported that the noise level in the oceans has risen a hundredfold over the past 60 years, though Parks cautions that this is based solely on studies conducted off the west coast of the US.

She says that shipping noise is a particular problem for baleen whales like the North Atlantic right whale, because their calls are roughly the same pitch. Other species – killer whales, for instance – call at higher pitches, though these whales may be affected by other noises, such as sonar.

Baleen whales rely on their calls to find each other: females use them to attract mates, and to call lost calves. "We don't know if the noise is affecting their ability to communicate," says Parks.

The noise levels recorded by Parks were "fairly moderate", she says, as no large ships passed close to the whales while she was recording. If ships were coming by very frequently, the noise might be louder than the whales could compensate for. "They might just stop talking altogether," she says.

If the noise is disrupting the whales' communication, it would be bad news for the species. North Atlantic right whales are endangered: there are fewer than 400 animals left in the wild including only 70 females able to have calves.

Christopher Clark of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, thinks the study is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the whales' communication, but cautions that it is "a very small sample size, from relatively few animals and in a very specific context".

Clark suggests that the whales' response to noise may depend on their location. They spend their winters calving off the coasts of Georgia and Florida where, instead of increasing the volume of their calls in response to noise, they just stop calling, he says. Whales have also been seen changing course to get out of the noisiest areas.

"The Gulf of Maine is their summer residence, where they're feeding and making friends," says Clark. "They're very social and get together in large groups." As a result, they may place a higher importance on communication in the summer.

Like Parks, he emphasises the high volume of noise in the Gulf of Maine. "If I had to immerse you into the sea off Boston, you'd be shocked. You'd be like a country mouse dropped in the middle of Heathrow Airport," says Clark. "In one generation, we have raised the background level for an entire ocean ecosystem."

Friday, July 02, 2010

{Press} Dead whale towed ashore near Dewey

MOLLY MURRAY • The News Journal • July 1, 2010

A large, northern right whale – the most endangered of all North Atlantic Whale species – was towed to Delaware Seashore State Park today after it was discovered dead and floating about 46 miles off the Delaware Coast.

A team that includes some of the region’s foremost experts on large whale species began cutting away parts of the 45.2-foot long creature to determine how it perished.

That process, including an analysis of the remaining skin as well as flesh and organ samplescould take months as fisheries experts look at everything from the possibility of chemical or toxin exposure to disease, parasites or signs that the whale may have been struck by a passing ship, said David Morin, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries service.

“It’s definitely not a fresh carcass,” he said.

Much of the skin was missing. The baleen – that the whale would have once used to filter its food – was gone, said Suzanne Thurman, executive director of the MERR Institute, Delaware’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

The Delaware group is standing by to assist with the necropsy but because northern right whales are so rare – the population is estimate to number 300 to 400 in the North Atlantic – federal officials assembled a coastwide team of experts to respond to the beach at the state park, just south of Dewey Beach.

Delaware has had its share of dead and stranded whales wash ashore – including a massive fin whale earlier this year.

But state standing teams have never responded to a right whale, Thurman said.

Two live right whales swam into Indian River Inlet in January 2007 and several years earlier, a right whale swam up the Delaware Bay and River and ended up at Philadelphia before it made its way back to the ocean.

The Coast Guard Cutter Legare, which was returning to Portsmouth, Va., from a 33-day deployment in the mid-Atlantic, discovered the whale Tuesday floating off-shore.

Crews on the ship took photographs of the large whale and provided them to
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

{Update} Sad news

We have received two reports of dead right whales in recent days... a serious tragedy for a species which only numbers around 400 individuals.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

{Publication} 2009 NARWSS and RWSAS Report Available!

North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Surveys (NARWSS)

The North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Survey (NARWSS) is a NOAA Fisheries program which locates and records the seasonal distribution of North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) off the northeastern coast of the United States. All NARWSS flights conducted in 2009 followed randomized systematic track lines within nine primary survey blocks: Cashes Ledge, Franklin Basin, Georges Basin, Georges Shoal, Great South Channel, Howell Swell, Jeffreys Ledge, Jordan Basin, and Stellwagen Bank. In addition, two supplemental survey blocks were added this year: Roseway Basin and Stellwagen Sanctuary. There were no broad scale surveys conducted in 2009, as there have been in the past[1]. During 2009, there were 66 surveys totaling 330 flight hours, including the relocation of a right whale carcass during one flight (Table 1). See Table 2 for a comparison of NARWSS flights, flight hours, and right whale sightings across years. There were 584 right whales detected within survey blocks (Table 1), and an additional 38 right whales sighted during transits to or from survey areas. The locations of right whales and survey lines flown are displayed by season in Figures 1a-1d.
Right Whale Sighting Advisory System (RWSAS)

In 2009, the Right Whale Sighting Advisory System (RWSAS) was re-engineered to support new regulations to reduce the threat of ship collisions with right whales (50 CFR Part 224). The regulations establish speed restrictions of 10 knots for all vessels length 65 ft (19.8 m) or greater within Seasonal Management Areas (SMAs). The SMAs encompass high-risk areas along the U.S. Atlantic seaboard where right whale sightings predictably and consistently occur each year[2]. When three or more right whales are sighted outside of SMAs, Dynamic Management Areas (DMAs) are put in place for two weeks that encompass an area commensurate to the number of whales present. Mariners are notified of DMAs via email, the internet, Broadcast Notice to Mariners (BNM), NOAA Weather Radio, and the Mandatory Ship Reporting system (MSR), and are requested to reduce their speed when transiting through DMAs. Unlike SMAs, compliance is voluntary for DMAs. The DMA program was initiated in December 2008 (concurrent with implementation of SMA regulations), and NARWSS reports generated three DMAs before the end of that year. In 2009, 19 DMAs were triggered by validated reports, of which 13 came from NARWSS. The RWSAS continued collecting sighting reports from sources including aerial surveys, shipboard surveys, whale watch vessels, and opportunistic sources (Coast Guard, commercial ships, fishing vessels, and the general public). The most common source of reports in 2009 was aerial surveys (215 reports - 48%; see Table 3). Most sightings were in the Northeast (New York through Maine), where the number of reports per month ranged from 6 in August and September, to 116 in April (Figure 2a and Figure 3). Most reports in the Mid-Atlantic region (New Jersey through North Carolina) were from opportunistic sources (Figure 2b and Figure 3). Most reports in Canadian waters were from shipboard surveys (Figure 2a and Figure 3). Due to the frequency of acoustic detections, logging them as part of the RWSAS was discontinued in 2009. Instead, public and shipping interests were provided links to the automated acoustic detection websites maintained by the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology[3].

Thursday, May 20, 2010

{Press} Right whale disentangled off Chatham coast

Cape Cod Times | Aaron Gouveia | May 16, 2010

"PROVINCETOWN — A right whale was disentangled Thursday 60 miles off the coast of Chatham, according to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

The adult male right whale, which had two ropes around his left fluke and a "significant" amount of trailing rope, was feeding just below the surface Thursday when an aerial team from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center spotted it.

The Marine Entanglement Response Team and other rescue personnel from the Provincetown Center Coastal Studies responded to the scene two hours later.

After repeated attempts, the rescue workers cut both wraps. The whale shook the remaining rope free by working his flukes up and down, according to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

The same whale was seen in March 2009 with no entanglements and researchers are unclear where the whale came in contact with the rope."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

{Press} Rescuers save right whale off Cape Cod | Sean Teehan | May 15, 2010

"Rescuers disentangled a distressed right whale from about 150 feet of heavy rope off Cape Cod this week, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies said.

Federal marine scientists making an aerial survey first sighted the whale in the Great South Channel on Thursday about 60 miles east of Chatham, the center said in a statement.

When a team from the center arrived, the concern “wasn’t the amount of rope, it was how tight it was” wrapped around the whale, said Scott Landry, director of the center's Marine Animal Entanglement Response team.

After multiple attempts, the team cut all the rope as the whale struggled to get away from its rescuers.

If the center hadn’t responded, Landry said, “At best, the whale would have lost the greater part of its tail. At worst, it would have died of infection.” However, he added, the whale still has to nurse its own wounds to avoid infection.

Although his team successfully helped the whale, Landry urged anyone who sees an entangled whale to call the center or the Coast Guard rather than attempt a rescue on their own.

“The animal had no idea we were trying to help him," Landry said. "When a wild animal doesn’t want your help, it’s extremely dangerous."

Friday, May 07, 2010

{Press} Crossbow the right solution to free entangled whale | Stefanie Geisler | May 5, 2010

"Over the weekend, a team with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies used a unique new technique to free a right whale from a rope that ensnared its upper jaw.

Using a crossbow, the team cut the rope by shooting an arrow with four razor blades on its tip Saturday, said Scott Landry, director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team. The whale was not injured.

“We did this because this species is notorious for two things: having wraps around their upper jaw, and being very evasive,’’ Landry said. “They really do not like to be approached. That makes disentanglement very difficult.’’

A stopper was placed below the tip to prevent it from going into the whale, Landry said.

The whale, a female nicknamed Wart, had a dangerous problem — rope wrapped around her upper jaw and zigzagged through her baleen plates, which filter food particles from water.

The team had tried to free Wart several times, and time was a factor, Landry said. The rope may have led to deadly infection.

The team’s disentanglement success rate for humpback whales is about 90 percent, Landry said. For right whales, it is about 50 percent because the animals are so evasive.

Wart was first seen with long lengths of rope trailing alongside her in March 2008. At that time, however, the rope was only in her baleen and had not wrapped around her jaw.

Some whales can live for months or even years with that type of entanglement, Landry said. It becomes dangerous when a body part is ensnared.

In January, the whale was spotted again. This time, the rope was wrapped around her jaw.

“That’s when we realized, ‘OK, intervention is absolutely necessary,’ ’’ Landry said. “Entanglements can kill a whale over time by cutting into the whale and introducing infection. We’ve seen quite a few right whales die of exactly this kind of entanglement.’’

But the seas were rough, and the whale was far from shore, Landry said. An intervention had to wait until the whale was spotted again.

That spotting came Saturday in the Great South Channel off Cape Cod.

Working under federal permit, Landry and his crew were able to get within 40 feet of Wart.

When Wart finally surfaced to take a breath, Landry knew he had just one second before she dove back underwater. He also had just one try.

“Truth be told, it was very difficult,’’ Landry said. “It all happened very quickly.’’

Landry shot the arrow. It zipped through the air, and one of the blades cut straight through the rope wrapping around the whale’s jaw.

Wart was not touched and did not seem to realize anything had happened, Landry said. But when she came back up from her next dive, she began opening and closing her mouth.

“She definitely noticed something had changed," Landry said. “She had already begun to work the rest of the entanglement out on her own."

It looks as though she might be free.

At about 2 p.m. yesterday, an aerial survey team spotted a right whale they believe was Wart, Landry said. She had no rope around her jaw or in her baleen.

“We’re still awaiting confirmation, but this whale is very easy to recognize," Landry said. “It’s very likely it’s her and she’s gear-free."

Thursday, May 06, 2010

{Flight} 05 May 2010 Jeffrey's Ledge

Had another incredible flight! We only saw two right whales, but there were tons of fin, humpback, sei, and minke whales!!! We had a really great look at a few side feeding sei whales!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

{Flight} 04 May 2010 Great South Channel

Amazing flight today - lots and lots of whales! Humpbacks, fin whales, sei whales, minke whales, and even a basking shark! We saw 7 right whales including a surface active group! Got a cool shot of Monomoy on our transit home...

{Entanglement} Wart is gear free!!!

Great news!!!

The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies Disentanglement Program with the assistance of the NOAA Twin Otter survey aircraft was able to free the right whale known as EGNO 1140 or "Wart" from her entanglement in fishing gear.

A sighting today by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies aircraft confirms that she is gear free!!!!

{Press} Large number of right whales off Rhode Island appear to have moved on

The Providence Journal | Peter B. Lord | May 4, 2010

"The historic assemblage of North Atlantic right whales that dallied in Rhode Island waters two weeks ago appears to have moved on.

A survey airplane operated by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies looked for the endangered whales on Saturday in the waters between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard and failed to see even one.

A similar survey flight operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identified 98 right whales in several groups on April 20. That represented a large portion of the total estimated right whale population of 350 to 400 animals.

The whales generally migrate up the East Coast this time each year, from where they winter off Florida and Georgia to off Maine and Canada, where they spend summers.

The survey team on Saturday saw 16 basking sharks and some dolphins, but no right whales, according to Tanya Grady, communications coordinator for the Provincetown nonprofit organization. She said the group routinely surveys Cape Cod Bay and nearby federal waters because they are considered critical habitat for the whales.

A NOAA survey plane also flew on Saturday over waters east of Cape Cod and spotters in the plane identified 45 right whales, according to spokesperson Shelley Dawicki.

She said the Coast Guard observed one right whale in Rhode Island Sound, but it appears the rest have left."

Monday, May 03, 2010

{Cruise} Delaware II Cruise

We waved the Delaware II off and wished them well as they set out to explore the Great South Channel on a right whale research cruise! I won't be joining them this time...

Saturday, May 01, 2010

{Press} Right whales right off our shores

The Block Island Times | Dan West | May 1, 2010

"The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration spotted 98 rare North Atlantic right whales between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard on Monday.

Rhode Island and Massachusetts have asked boats to reduce speed to 10 knots when traveling through the area where the whales have been seen. It is also illegal to go within 500 yards of the animals without special permission.

Robert Kenney, an associate marine research scientist at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, studies right whales. He says the whales have been on the endangered list for 80 years and are considered the most endangered of all whale species. The 100 individual whales spotted along the New England coast in the last two weeks represent about one quarter of the total right whale population left in the world’s ocean. However, Kenney said sightings of that size are not uncommon in areas off Canada, where the whales live in the summer, or off the southern coast in the winter.

What is unusual about this sighting was the large number seen while they are migrating between their summer and winter homes. Kenney said that since right whales are not especially social animals they aren’t normally seen in such high numbers as they migrate. They do not usually travel in large pods but rather swim alone or in a very small group.

Kenney said that right whales have been migrating along the East Coast for hundreds or even thousands of years. When their food is abundant the whales will stay in the area for an extended period of time to feed before continuing north.

“The same type of event happened in 1998,” Kenney said. “This isn’t a one-time thing it’s more of an occasional event.”

Nearly all of the whales were in an area being studied for the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan.

The Ocean SAMP is an effort to evaluate and zone Rhode Island coastal waters with an eye toward commercial wind development. The study will cover wide-ranging issues — shipping traffic, bird migration — that could be impacted by possible wind farm development.

According to Laura Ricketson-Dwyer, information coordinator for the Coastal Resources Management Council, the whale sightings have “no impact to the Ocean SAMP or how we are developing it.”

Ricketson-Dwyer explained that the researchers at URI have added the whale sightings to their database but they will not have an immediate impact on the SAMP.

Kenney said that the SAMP would be taking a lot of information into account. He explained that before any wind farm is approved it would need to pass an environmental study that would consider whale migration patterns.

Meanwhile, whale spouts have been sighted all around Block Island in the last week — from the bluffs, the end of Cooneymus Road as well as the ferry."