Friday, April 30, 2010

{Press} Woods Hole Scientists To Conduct Whale Study off Massachusetts Coast

"North Atlantic Right Whales Congregate for “Spring Fling” in Great South Channel"

"A three-week study of North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) next month off Cape Cod will provide researchers with more information about the whales’ diving and foraging behavior, genetics, vocalizations, and the composition of their population. Autonomous gliders, underwater robots of sorts, will also be tested to determine their feasibility for remote acoustic surveys in the future.

The whale survey, undertaken annually by the Woods Hole Laboratory of NOAA’s Fisheries Service, will include shipboard and aerial observations, measurements of environmental conditions, and zooplankton sampling tows to collect copepods, the primary prey of North Atlantic right whales. This year, attempts will be made to tag both North Atlantic right whales and larger sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis), and to obtain acoustic recordings and biopsy samples from smaller minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in the area.

Lisa Conger, a member of the Protected Species Branch at the Woods Hole Laboratory and chief scientist for the May cruise, says the survey is focused primarily in the Great South Channel because North Atlantic right whales historically arrive in that area in large concentrations at this time of year.

“The North Atlantic right whale is the rarest large whale species in the Atlantic Ocean, with an estimated living population of around 400 animals,” Conger said. “We are interested in learning more about how these whales use the Great South Channel habitat, one of five key habitat areas for the species and potentially important for individual animals that don’t seem to use the other four areas. Obtaining photographs and genetic samples from individual animals will help us determine the structure of the population as a whole.”

The scientists also hope to collect information about sei whales and their prey, and obtain acoustic recordings from minke whales. “All these data will provide insight into how these whale species are using this particular region of the ocean,” Conger said.

Biologists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and a marine mammal specialist from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will also be part of the scientific team aboard the NOAA Ship Delaware II, based in Woods Hole. The WHOI scientists will be testing autonomous gliders and their potential use in monitoring the distribution and habitat of marine mammals and in collecting both acoustic recordings and high-resolution oceanographic measurements.

Each winter during the past few years, Conger and NOAA colleague Richard Pace have collected biopsy samples from North Atlantic right whale calves and their mothers in waters off Florida and Georgia, their only known calving ground. These samples, or “genetic fingerprints”, are important in determining reproductive success and paternity identification in this endangered population. Previously unidentified juveniles are also sampled as part of an ongoing genetic study of the North Atlantic right whale’s family tree.

The Delaware II survey will be coordinated with NOAA aerial surveys of marine mammals conducted year-round by the Woods Hole Laboratory in waters from the Gulf of Maine to Long Island, N.Y. Information collected during the aerial surveys is used for a variety of research and conservation purposes, including updating the North Atlantic right whale photo identification catalog maintained by the New England Aquarium and NOAA’s Right Whale Sighting Advisory System for mariners.

The Woods Hole aerial survey team observed a record high 98 North Atlantic right whales on April 20 during a routine survey of Rhode Island Sound. The previous sighting record for this area was 25 animals in 1998.

NOAA’s Fisheries Service protects North Atlantic right whales and other marine mammals under both the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. The Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), headquartered at the Woods Hole Laboratory, is a primary source of information on North Atlantic right whales in the northeast U.S. region, which extends from Cape Hattera, N.C., to the U.S.-Canada border.

NEFSC conducts collaborative research on marine mammals with other federal and state agencies, universities, non-government research organizations, and international organizations. NOAA Fisheries also funds marine mammal research, conservation, and stranding response efforts at many other scientific institutions.

NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources and their habitat through scientific research, management and enforcement. NOAA Fisheries Service provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at http://www.noaa.gov or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/noaa.lubchenco."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

{Press} Why did the right whale cross the sea?

The Daytona Beach News Journal | by Dinah Voyles Pulver | April 25, 2010

"Scientists wondered for years why endangered North Atlantic right whales travel south to coastal Florida and Georgia each winter.

This year they may be closer to an answer. Like people that spend winters in Florida, the whales may just prefer warmer temperatures.

Scientists know adult female whales swim south from the Bay of Fundy near Nova Scotia to give birth, accompanied by an entourage of juvenile and young adult whales and the occasional adult male.

But no one is sure why the whales choose this particular location, though experts long suspected temperature played a role.

This winter, as ocean temperatures plummeted in January, the whales moved farther and farther south from the typical center of their activity off Jacksonville. More whales were spotted off the Volusia and Flagler coasts than ever before and whales were seen as far south as Boynton Beach.

The season, which officially ended April 15, was "interesting and successful," said Tom Pitchford, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist. Experts were relieved no whales were found stranded on the beach or entangled in ropes or fishing gear and no collisions were reported between whales and ships.

One team of aerial observers also witnessed a birth, an event seen only once before in the history of the monitoring program. A total of 19 mother and calf pairs were seen, but one calf later died.

Experts identify the whales by patches of white skin on their heads called callosities. A species of baleen whale, right whales reach up to 55 feet long and weigh up to 70 tons.

The unseasonable cold gave scientists a valuable opportunity to compare water temperatures and sightings to historical records.

"We saw in a big way how the colder the water, the farther south the whales might disperse," Pitchford said. Further analysis will continue, he said, but an "armchair look at the data" clearly shows a shift in distribution.

That means fewer whales might be seen locally in a warmer winter, while colder winters might result in a bevy of whale sightings like the one that drew hundreds of people to Flagler Beach on Jan. 29. A large group of whales spent the day cavorting just off shore.

"That was a highlight of the season," said Jim Hain, a scientist with the Marineland Right Whale Project. An event like that is "kind of spectacular."

Sometimes groups of young whales are the equivalent of teenagers at the mall, Hain said. "You'll have this big social group of up to 10, 11 or 12 animals," he said. "There's a lot of interaction, bumping and all that."

Such sightings help educate people and promote whale conservation, Hain said.

"Once people see whales, they're hooked.

"You can give them textbooks, videos and all that, but the connection and the impact comes when they're actually standing on a beach and they see a whale just outside the surf line," Hain said. "It's like the veil is lifted from their eyes and their heart."

The Marineland project monitors about 60 miles of coast from just above St. Augustine to New Smyrna Beach, an area where the ocean is slightly deeper near shore, which allows the whales to swim closer. Hain and Joy Hampp use a two-seater aircraft and typically fly about three times a week during a 10-week period.

This year the project saw its best year ever for whale sightings, a fact Hain attributes to the cold. Eight different mother-calf pairs were sighted.

Marineland is one of six groups that monitor the coast between South Carolina and Florida during the calving season, and one of four conducting regular aerial surveys. The aerial observers participate in an early warning system that alerts large commercial vessels and U.S. military ships to the presence of whales in the busy shipping lanes off the Northeast Florida coast."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

{Press} Right whales crowd waters off Rhode Island

Provincetown Banner | April 24, 2010

"PROVINCETOWN —

Right whales are setting records in the waters off Rhode Island and south of Martha’s Vineyard, where an estimated 98 of these rare marine mammals have been spotted in recent days.

It’s the largest concentration of right whales ever seen in that area and an impressive occurrence in that the group of whales represents a significant fraction of a critically endangered population. Just 350 to 400 right whales remain in the world.

It all started on April 20 when whale researchers with NOAA’s marine mammal aerial survey team spotted a distinctive-looking slick in Rhode Island Sound — the “flukeprint” left behind when a diving whale flexes its tail under the surface to propel itself downward.

“We circled over the flukeprint and found not one, but 38 feeding right whales,” said whale researcher Pete Duley in a press release.

In the next six hours the team counted 98 right whales altogether, including a mother and calf pair. The group of 38 was seen in the waters south of Nomans, an island below the Vineyard, and smaller clusters of whales were scattered between the Vineyard and Block Island.

All of the whales were actively feeding at the surface, a sign they’ve tracked down an abundance of copepods, the zooplankton they eat.

The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies has been conducting its own right whale surveys in Cape Cod Bay over the last few months, monitoring the marine mammals’ food source and keeping track of the numbers of whales active in local waters. Two weeks ago the PCCS aerial team counted up to 70 right whales in the bay, but those numbers dropped over the past few days, during the same period when another PCCS research team detected “sparse” levels of zooplankton in the bay.

As news of the large aggregation of right whales broke, the alert went out to vessels in the area. Right whales are particularly vulnerable to collisions with ships, one of the leading causes of death to the endangered animal."

{Press} Right whales spotted in RI

WHDH-TV | April 24, 2010

BLOCK ISLAND, Rhode Island -- A pod of whales moving up the east coast is right on course.

Researchers have spotted about 100 North Atlantic right whales feeding off Rhode Island near Block Island Sound.

The whales migrate to our waters in the summer for food.

This is an amazing sign because right whales have been hunted to near-extinction.

There are only about 400 left.

Click here to see the video

{Flight} 24 April 2010 Great South Channel

Only one lonely juvenile right whale out on the southern half of the Great South Channel today...

Friday, April 23, 2010

{Press} Federal scientists spot nearly 100 North Atlantic right whales

Correction to the article below - right whales are individually identified by the callosity pattern on their heads (not by their flukes like humpback whales)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Boston.com | Martin Finucane, Globe Staff | April 23, 2010

"Researchers flying over the Atlantic coast earlier this week spotted a record number of endangered North Atlantic right whales feeding in Block Island Sound, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today.

Ninety-eight of the whales were spotted Tuesday by an aerial survey team. It was the largest group ever documented in those waters, the agency said.

The whales were surface feeding on plankton. At this time of year, the whales migrate north through New England waters, NOAA said in a statement.

It wasn't clear if any of the whales came from the group of 25 to 40 observed last week by a Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies boat 5 miles southwest of Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown. NOAA spokeswoman Shelley Dawicki said the researchers have been too busy to study the photos to determine -- using the patterns on their flukes -- the identities of the mammals.

Researchers estimate there are fewer than 450 of the marine mammals, which can grow 55 feet long and weigh more than 70 tons, the Globe reported last week in a story on the researchers off Provincetown. That would mean researchers saw almost one-fourth of all the living members of the species in a single flight.

The survey team plans to fly over the Great South Channel, which is due east of Cape Cod, today, Dawicki said."

{Press} Caution, whales; state warns mariners in Vineyard waters

The Martha's Vineyard Times online | April 23, 2010

"The state Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) urges mariners to use caution in the coastal waters around Martha’s Vineyard where two pairs of mother and calf right whales are feeding. Right whales are an endangered species with a population estimated between 350 to 400 whales worldwide.

The presence of pairs of mothers and calves is rare and boat operators are urged to use extreme caution while navigating these coastal waters. The whales feed near the surface, which put them at risk for vessel collision. For the safety of both mariners and the whales, vessel operators are strongly urged to reduce speed to less than 10 knots, post lookouts, and proceed with caution to avoid colliding with the whales.

Under federal and state law, mariners are prohibited from approaching the whales within 500 yards. Commercial fishermen are reminded that the approach rule also prohibits them from starting fishing operations (setting or hauling gear) within 500 yards of a right whale.

Survey planes spotted the two right whale mother/calf pairs around Martha’s Vineyard and at least 94 additional right whales feeding to the west and south of Martha’s Vineyard in federal waters, according to an aerial survey conducted this week by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Right whales can weigh up to 70 tons and are as long as 55 feet. Pregnant females travel annually to the coasts of Georgia and Florida to give birth to calves are 10 to 15 feet long and weigh 1.5 tons."

{Flight} 23 April 2010 Great South Channel

Wind on today's flight ranged from a Beaufort 2 - 6, but despite the tricky sighting conditions, our team spotted 8 right whales including a mother and calf pair!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

{Press} Mass. warns boaters of right whales off coast

Boston.com | April 22, 2010

"BOSTON—State environmental officials are warning boaters to use caution in coastal waters off Martha's Vineyard in order to avoid rare right whales.

There are only about 400 North Atlantic right whales left, and they migrate to waters off Massachusetts every spring.

State and federal officials say about 100 of the animals are west and south of Martha's Vineyard, including two pairs of mothers and calves.

The Division of Marine Fisheries on Thursday urged vessels to slow to less than 10 knots and post lookouts.

Ship strikes are the leading human cause of death of the animal, and the collisions are also dangerous to mariners.

The warning comes the day after a man drowned after a marine mammal believed to be a whale flipped his canoe."

{Flight} 21 April 2010 Howell Swell


Gorgeous morning to be out on the water - it was flat calm! We didn't see any right whales out on Howell Swell, but I did get a gorgeous look at three sei whales gliding under water! Also snapped this photo of the winding streams heading towards the bay as we flew over Cape Cod...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

{Press} Record Number of North Atlantic Right Whales Sighted off Rhode Island

Of course this happened the one day that I wasn't on the plane...

-----------------------------------------------------------------

"A NOAA marine mammal aerial survey team based at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center's laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., has sighted nearly 100 endangered North Atlantic right whales feeding in Rhode Island Sound, the largest group ever documented in those waters.

“It all started with a flukeprint,” said Pete Duley, whale researcher at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center who was on the team that spotted the whales on April 20.

A “flukeprint” is the whale equivalent of a footprint. It appears on the water’s surface when a whale dives and when just underwater flexes its tail, or fluke, upward to help propel itself deeper. This creates a smooth patch of water on the surface that looks somewhat like an oil slick, and to whale spotters is one of the telltale signs whales are present.

“We circled over the fluke print and found not one, but 38 feeding right whales, the largest group we saw all day,” said Duley.

And it was just the beginning. “We expected to spend a couple of hours and perhaps see an animal or two,” said Allison Glass, another NOAA whale researcher that was part of the team. “Instead, we flew for 6 hours and counted 98, including a mother-calf pair.”

All of the whales were actively surface feeding, indicating dense patches of copepods, the tiny marine zooplankton on which right whales feed. During this time of year, right whales are migrating through southern New England waters generally headed northward to feed at different times and places throughout the summer.

North Atlantic right whales are particularly susceptible to collisions with vessels, causing serious injuries and deaths of the animals. The likelihood of a seriously harmful collision is reduced when vessel speeds are slowed.

The whales were sighted both within and just outside of waters that are also part of a seasonal management area for large whales intended to reduce the risk of harmful collisions. Within the area, vessels 65 ft or larger are required to abide by a speed limit of 10 knots or less between November 1 and April 30 of each year. NOAA has extended protection in adjacent areas by implementing a short-term management area that mariners are expected, but not required, to either avoid or to voluntarily reduce speeds to 10 knots or less while transiting.

Another source of human-caused injuries and deaths among large whales is entanglement in some kinds of fishing gear. Pot /trap and gillnet fishermen throughout the northeast are required to rig their gear to make it less likely to injure or kill a whale that encounters it, and to mark gear to help identify any entangling line or gear that is recovered from an entangled animal.

NOAA’s Northeast marine mammal aerial survey team completes hundreds of survey flight hours annually over the waters off the northeast. This week's aggregation rivals that documented in December 2008, when the team spotted 44 right whales in Jordan Basin in the central Gulf of Maine where they expected to see no more than a few.

NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources and their habitat through scientific research, management and enforcement. NOAA Fisheries Service provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at http://www.noaa.gov or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/noaa.lubchenco."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

{Flight} 18 April 2010


Crazy day today! We headed out to Howell Swell in hopes of surveying, but the rain and low ceilings made it impossible to work. Just as we were about to turn around, we spotted a right whale and took some photographs before heading home. We paused in the vicinity of Martha's Vineyard on the way in to check on a report of some right whales in the area, and we were thrilled to find a mother and calf pair just off Oak Bluffs!!! Allison was able to identify the mother as EGNO 3142.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

{Press} Rare Whales Spotted Off Cape Cod

WCVB Channel 5 | April 13, 2010

"SCITUATE, Mass. --
Dozens of rare right whales put on a show Monday right off the coast of Cape Cod, WCVB-TV in Boston reported.

More than 40 of the animals were spotted. Officials said the animals come to the Massachusetts coast every spring to dine and that there are only a few hundred right whales left in the world.

"We get these large concentrations of copepods, often just below the surface of the water, and so these animals will be what we call 'skim feeding,' skimming through the surface of the water with their mouth wide open to feed," said Monica Zani of the New England Aquarium.

While it's all about the food for the whales, the watchers were closely observing a rare sight, learning how to better protect the endangered mammal.

"When they're on the surface and are feeding like this, they are really susceptible to a vessel strike and occasionally getting wrapped up in fishing gear," which are the two biggest causes of death for the Right Whale, said Dr. Charles "Stormy" Mayo, senior scientist a the Center for Coastal Studies.

Boats need to keep a wide berth -- 1,500 feet by federal law.

"They do produce a very distinct, visible blow or spout -- it's shaped like a V. So, if you see that, you know to stay away," Zani said.

These massive animals can easily measure upwards of 60 feet and weigh over 50 tons. The whales can be recognized by the unique white markings on their nose and their classic water spout.

Right whales are very slow to breed. Officials said a female must be 9 years old to breed, and can only produce one calf every three to five years."

{Press} A whale-watch of vital significance

By David Filipov | www.boston.com | April 13, 2010

"OFF THE COAST OF PROVINCETOWN — Charles “Stormy’’ Mayo descends from a long line of men who have made their living on the sea, but with one big difference. His forebears sometimes hunted the whales that appear off the shores of Cape Cod each spring. He is trying to save them.

Mayo leads a small crew of scientists who are studying the North Atlantic right whale to learn more about the habitat and habits of one of the most endangered animal species on the planet, to better understand and protect the rare leviathans. And here on the research vessel Shearwater, about 5 miles southwest of Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown, is one of the best places in the world to do it.

Some 25 to 40 of the great marine mammals, which can grow 55 feet long and weigh more than 70 tons, have come here to feed, and yesterday the tiny animals that draw them to these waters were teeming on the surface in billowing pink clouds. About a dozen of the giants glided just feet from the Shearwater’s busy deck, skimming zooplankton from the water with the great baleen filters that line their mouths instead of teeth.

Mayo, 67, who helped found the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies 34 years ago, lives for days like this.

“Oh my God, this is amazing," he exclaimed, pointing excitedly at the layers of pink and the whales that scooped them up.

Some of the huge mammals lifted their heads high enough out of the water to reveal their mouths, and steamed right at the Shearwater like shiny black miniature submarines before diving under the calm waters of the bay, showing their perfect V-shaped flukes as they submerged.

“You’re looking at something very special," Mayo said.

Commercial whale-watching boats and other vessels are required to keep 500 yards away from the critically endangered cetaceans.

But researchers aboard the Shearwater, accompanied yesterday by Ian A. Bowles, Massachusetts secretary for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, got much closer.

“Part of our charge is to protect endangered species in the Commonwealth," Bowles said. “And this is one of the most endangered species in the world."

Researchers estimate that there are fewer than 450 North Atlantic right whales. Whalers nearly wiped them out — some scientists believe that only 100 or so were left when governments began protecting them eight decades ago.

Whalers gave the majestic animals their name: They were the right whale to hunt. Right whales swim more slowly than other species of large whales and are blanketed with such a thick layer of blubber that they float instead of sinking when they die.

Even smaller fishing boats could pull them to shore — such as the ones piloted by generations of Mayo’s family, from his ancestors who arrived in Provincetown in the mid-1600s, to his father, who stopped hunting whales in the 1930s.

Though they are protected today, the whales are constantly threatened by encounters with humans. Unlike other whales, they graze with such apparently single-minded focus that they often collide with vessels or become entangled in marine equipment.

“When they are feeding, they seem to be oblivious," Mayo said.

The state has adopted speed limits to slow down vessels when whales are present. But scientists are also concerned about the effect that climate change could have on the right whales’ unique feeding habits, Mayo said. A change in the size or prevalence of the zooplankton could have a devastating effect on the species, he said.

The scientists took samples from the water yesterday to determine the concentration of this particular type of zooplankton, small, shrimp-like creatures called copepods.

The stocky, black whales are distinguishable from other species by their V-shaped spouts; they lack a dorsal fin, and their heads have distinctive, brownish, rough patches that allow researchers to identify individuals, said Karen Stamieszkin, a right whale scientist for the center.

“They are odd-looking animals," she said.

Mayo said many of the whales spend the winter farther from shore, and some come from as far as Florida, before arriving in the plankton-rich waters of Cape Cod Bay as early as late February. Researchers had counted 19 calves this year, less than last year’s record of 39, but still a “real good number," Mayo said. By May, many of these whales will move to areas off of Cape Cod and the islands, depending on the food supply.

Mayo and Stamieszkin offered a taste of the whale’s favorite food — zooplankton sushi, they call it. Spread on crackers, it looked a bit like homemade fruit preserves. It tasted a bit like ocean. Bowles joked that the Commonwealth ought to market the stuff.

“This is about the purest food you can get," he said."

Monday, April 12, 2010

{Press} Off the Cape, researchers tracking right whales

By Globe Staff | www.boston.com | April 12, 2010

"ON CAPE COD BAY – A top state official and researchers today are closely observing a pod of about 40 right whales as the endangered mammals feed along the Massachusetts coastline during their annual northward migration.

As an endangered species, commercial whale watching vessels must stay 500 feet away from the cetaceans. But researchers -- on board the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies' vessel -- and Ian Bowles, secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, are getting a much closer look.

"Part of our charge is to protect endangered species in the commonwealth," Bowles said. He is also tweeting on his experiences. "And this is one of the most endangered species in the world."

An Environmental Police pontoon boat accompanying the researchers off Provincetown. Globe reporter David Filipov and photographer Bill Greene are on board that vessel.

Filipov said by phone that he could see the whales' distinctive V-shaped spumes bursting above the calm waters of the bay. Right whales can also be identified by the lack of a dorsal fin and the way they feed – skimming close to the surface with open mouths, collecting zooplankton floating in the water.

While on the telephone, Filipov saw a whale breaching, lifting nearly 75 percent of the mammal's massive body out of the water.

Right whales were hunted nearly to extinction by the whalers, including those from New Bedford and Nantucket. An estimated 400 now survive in the North Atlantic and about 10 percent of that total are now feeding in the state's coastal waters.

"It's an exceptional day for whale watching," said Filipov, who expects to talk with marine experts later today. He said the water is calm and visibility is unhindered."

{Flight} 12 April 2010 Great South Channel

No right whales in sight, but it was a gorgeous day for a survey! We did see a few humpbacks, fin whales, sei whales, minkes, and harbor porpoise...

{Flight} 11 April 2010 Stellwagen

Saw lots and lots of bubble feeding humpbacks out on Stellwagen Bank today!!! The churned up green water looks pretty cool from the air, although I wish we had more time to spend watching them...

Friday, April 09, 2010

{Press} Right whale moms & calves make journey north to Cape waters

Sally Rose | Provincetown Banner | April 09, 2010

"PROVINCETOWN —

With spring in the air, right whale moms are making their way north to New England from warmer southern waters with calves in tow.

That means the much anticipated — at least in these parts — right whale calf count is in.

Through aerial survey flights, New England Aquarium scientists and their colleagues, including those at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, have determined that 19 right whale calves were born this year. However, only 18 appear to have survived to depart their winter nursery waters along the north Florida and Georgia coasts; one calf disappeared for unknown reasons.

Nineteen calves is roughly the average observed birth rate for the North Atlantic right whale population over the past decade, but it is many fewer than the record 39 that were born last spring.

Right whale mothers give birth only once every two to three years. The calves measure about 12 feet long and 2,000 pounds at birth.

And, with most of the mom-calf pairs having begun their migration north along the East Coast, the northern contingent of researchers are beginning their aerial survey flights.

Laura Ganley, flight coordinator for Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies’ aerial survey team, said she and her team saw three mom and calf pairs over the weekend — a good ratio considering that last season, with the record 39 births, they only saw a total of four mom-and-calf pairs during the whales’ feeding time in Cape Cod Bay.

Tanya Gabettie Grady, in charge of PCCS’s communications, noted that Coastal Studies researchers and their colleagues are still analyzing the sightings’ data on this year’s mom and calf pairs.

The bay isn’t the only right whale feeding ground, though, and some of the whales may be keeping farther offshore.

But there were plenty to keep the observation teams busy.

“It was the first crazy busy weekend,” said Ganley. The PCCS team saw a total of about 44 right whales Friday and 40 on Monday. “That keeps us pretty busy, we were landing as the sun was setting.”

Right whales usually spend most of April feeding around Cape Cod Bay and then head north at the end of the month and beginning of April.

Right whale mothers and calves take several weeks to make the hazardous journey up the East Coast past many busy shipping ports. Historically, it is known to be one of the more dangerous times for right whales as these slow, surface swimming whales with their black color are vulnerable to vessel strikes.

There are fewer than 450 of these mammals left on the planet — they are the most endangered large whale in the Atlantic and among the most endangered whales in the world.

New England Aquarium scientists, based out of Boston, maintain the official catalog for each individual whale, identified by their distinctive raised white skin patterns which are unique to each individual."

Saturday, April 03, 2010

{Press} Right Whale Moms, Calves Headed To Cape Cod

WBZ Boston | April 3, 2010

"An endangered North Atlantic right whale mother is spotted off the coast of southern Georgia with her calf as they make their way to New England.

Endangered North Atlantic right whale mothers and their calves are making their annual migration from the warm waters of Florida and Georgia to New England.

Tony LaCasse, a spokesperson for the New England Aquarium, said 18 mother and calf pairs are making their way up the coast. He said some may have already arrived in Cape Cod Bay, though that has not been confirmed.

Researchers say there are fewer than 450 right whales left on the planet. They add these whales are the most endangered large whale in the Atlantic.

Scientists with the New England Aquarium keep the official catalog for each whale. They are able to differentiate the whale's distinctive raised white skin patterns.

Right whale calves are about 12 feet long and 2000 pounds when born. They are generally born in January, February, and March. They will spend the summer months off the coast of New England, returning to southern waters in October or November.

There were 19 documented births this winter, but researchers say one calf has disappeared and they don't know why.

Last winter a record 39 calves were born.

A right whale's gestation period is about a year, and females give birth about once every three years.

Mothers nurse their calves for a little less than a year, and then spend another year regaining the tens of thousands of pounds they've lost since giving birth.

The trip the right whale mothers and their calves make can take several weeks. And researchers say it can be exceptionally dangerous for them as they pass several busy shipping ports.

The whales are slow, swim on the surface and can be tough to spot with their black color.

Once in New England, the whales will stay in Cape Cod Bay and Great South Channel until late summer, when they travel to the Bay of Fundy off the coast of Maine and Canada."