Friday, December 30, 2011

{Press} Early right whale sightings off Cape

Editor's note:

Right whale sightings should be reported to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Right Whale Sighting Advisory System pager at 978-585-8473


Cape Cod Times | Jon Offredo | December 30, 2011

"While some surveyed the skies in hopes of spotting Santa over the Christmas holiday, whale watchers looked to the seas as the endangered North Atlantic right whale made an early appearance around the outer Cape.

Charles "Stormy" Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, said he's had a number of people whom he trusts call in with reported whale sightings.

To report a whale sighting, contact Charles "Stormy" Mayo, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, 508-487-3623, ext. 110. Note the location, date, time and place of the sighting, as well as a quick description.
Mayo believes the rare, and endangered whale could still be in the area.

"I think we can say they are likely around. The movement of right whales at this time of year is not very well understood," he said.

There is one possible explanation: food.

"The great likelihood (is) when we see numbers of whales around for more than a day, then it might mean they have found food," Mayo said.

Although right whales are carnivores and feed on plankton, they behave and move more like grazing beasts — imagine cows and goats on a hillside — and as a consequence, their movement patterns can sometimes be indicative of the distribution of their food.

For instance, Mayo and his team know that around March and April, which is when whales are usually sighted off the Outer Cape, their food supply is bountiful.

Last winter and spring, 315 right whales were identified, perhaps the largest number seen in any location in recent years. That is a very big portion of the remaining whales, which number somewhere around 500, Mayo said.

But as for their early showing this year, it's a bit of a mystery.

"It's really more guess than science," he said.

Typically, Mayo and his team at the Center for Coastal Studies start studying whale movements in mid-January. But a shortage of funding has left them unable to survey the whale's current movements.

"These are very rare animals, this is not a time of year when you have a lot of eyes on the water, and we depend right now on what are opportunist reports — people who happen to see them," he said.

Good places to spot right whales include the outer shore from Provincetown all the way to Wellfleet.

"It's likely they are still there," he said.

One of the most recent spottings was on Christmas Day, but Mayo said it has not been verified as a right whale.

Some of the telltale signs of a right whale are: no dorsal fins (the hooked fin on a whale's back) and their spouts, which, when seen from directly ahead or behind, form a "V."

The right whales differ from humpbacks, which might also be in the area. These have a small dorsal fin visible when they lift their tails.

Right whales also have unique and odd behavior, sometimes skimming the ocean for hours on end for plankton. They also sometimes breach."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

{Press} Coast Guard warns ships of endangered right whales in mid-Atlantic waters | Tom Hester, Sr. | December 28, 2011

Pinpoints waters off Sandy Hook, entrance to Delaware Bay

"The Coast Guard on Wednesday reminded the operators of ships 65 feet or longer that the vessels can go no faster than 10 knots when entering New York Harbor off Sandy Hook or the Delaware Bay as part of the federal effort to protect North Atlantic right whales.

The service announced that the Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule is in effect until April to protect endangered right whales in mid-Atlantic waters where they are known to migrate.

As the federal government's primary maritime enforcement agency, the Coast Guard is working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a shared goal of conserving and rehabilitating the critically endangered whale’s population, which stands at approximately 300 worldwide. Collisions with ships and interaction with fishing gear are a major cause of mortality and injury to the whales.

NOAA fisheries implemented the regulations, which require vessels 65 feet or longer to operate at 10 knots or less over ground in certain locations consistent with the whales’ migratory pattern along the Atlantic coast. The locations include a 20 nautical mile radius around Sandy Hook and the entrance to Delaware Bay.

Vessels may operate at speeds more than 10 knots only if necessary to maintain a safe maneuvering speed in an area where conditions severely restrict vessel maneuverability as determined by the pilot or master.

"I think that anyone who’s seen one of these impressive creatures can understand why protecting them is so important," Lt. j.g. James Kopcsay, an enforcement officer at Coast Guard Sector North Carolina in Wilmington, said. "Following the provisions of this rule is of critical importance to preventing their extinction. The Coast Guard’s goal is to educate mariners about the importance of this rule, minimizing our need to issue warnings or seek civil penalties that result from choosing to break it."

Records indicate an average of two reported deaths or serious injuries to right whales occur due to ship strikes each year. Authorities said a single human-caused death or serious injury a year can impact the population’s ability to survive.

To report a suspected violation in the seasonal management areas, call the national hotline at 800-853-1964."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

{Press} Big boats asked to slow for migrating whales

The Associated Press | December 27, 2011

"Large vessels sailing off Virginia waters are being reminded to slow down for right whales.

The Coast Guard has implemented Operation Right Speed through April to ensure the migratory mammals have a safe passage along the Atlantic seaboard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has implemented regulations that require vessels 65 feet or greater to operate at 10 knots or less in areas where the right whales are known to migrate. That includes the waters off Virginia.

A female right whale seen off Georgia this month was the first observed this season.

Right whales are among the most threatened of all whales. The global population is estimated in the hundreds."


Editor's note:

The current population estimate for North Atlantic right whales, eubalaena glacialis, ranges between 361* and 490**.

*NOAA Stock Assessment Report 2010 based on the minimum number known alive
**New England Aquarium 2011 report card middle estimate

{Update} Up to 2 new right whale calves!

There was a 2nd baby right whale born this season!

The right whale known to researchers as egno 3220 was seen on December 22nd with a new calf by the Florida Fish and Wildlife aerial survey team.

You can learn more about right whales and search for images of 3220 at the New England Aquarium's photographic database online:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

{Press} Coast Guard reminds operators of large vessels off Va. to slow for migrating right whales

The Associated Press | December 27, 2011

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Larger vessels sailing off Virginia waters are being reminded to slow down for right whales.

The Coast Guard has implemented "Operation Right Speed" through April 2012 to ensure the migratory mammals have a safe passage along the Atlantic seaboard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has implemented regulations that require vessels 65 feet or greater to operate at 10 knots or less in areas where the right whales are known to migrate. That includes the waters off Virginia.

The first female right whale of the season was seen this month off Georgia.

Right whales are among the most threatened of all the whales worldwide. The global population is estimated in the hundreds."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

{Press} First right whale calf of season sighted off Georgia coast; boaters urged to be careful

The Associated Press | December 22, 2011

"SAVANNAH, Ga. — Georgia's Department of Natural Resources reports that the first right whale calf of the season has been spotted off the coast.

Clay George, a right whale specialist with the department's Coastal Resources Division, says the newborn was seen Tuesday morning and belongs to the first female right whale seen earlier in the season.

George says the estimated 29-year-old mother whale was originally sighted in November off the Charleston shoreline, and later in waters off Savannah at the start of right whale season. In her lifetime, the whale has been seen several times and is known to have given birth to five calves.

George says the baby whale is about two to four days old and is healthy and normal.

George is urging boaters to be on the lookout for whales as the season goes on. Boat strikes are the leading cause of right whale injuries and deaths."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

{Press} Right whales return to Provincetown for rare December frolic Read more: Right whales return to Provincetown for rare December frolic

Provincetown Banner | Kaimi Rose Lum | December 21, 2011


The right whales have returned in time for the holidays this year, creating such a spectacle in Provincetown Harbor last week that even Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, researcher of right whales for 30 years, was impressed.

Mayo dashed off to the residence of an old friend, Dick Burhoe, on Beach Point last Thursday after Burhoe reported seeing right whales breaching offshore. The scientist arrived in time to witness a scene worthy of “Animal Planet”: a sort of unwieldy whale ballet being performed about a third of a mile out, as a pair of the rare cetaceans leaped repeatedly from the water.

“I’ve never seen two right whales jumping simultaneously,” Mayo said. “It’s extremely dramatic when you see an extremely rare animal doing such extremely rare behavior. … These two animals were breaching regularly, more than I have ever seen. I probably saw as many as 20 or 30 breaches and maybe more.”

Between jumps, he said, the whales engaged in some overtly flirtatious behavior, rolling at the surface and zigzagging. Frisky groups of right whales are referred to as SAGs, for “sexually active groups” or “surface active groups.”

As far as the right whales’ reproductive calendar goes, December is the most fruitful month, a time when fertilization tends to be successful, Mayo said. So it’s possible that one of the baby right whales born next year will have been conceived in Provincetown.

Although Mayo saw only two or three individuals, reports of right whales elsewhere in Cape Cod Bay have been trickling in since the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies announced their return last week. Some have observed the whales on the opposite side of the bay, some at Herring Cove, and one report came in from the ocean side, at Cahoon Hollow in Wellfleet, where a group of right whales was seen skim-feeding at the surface.

With so many sightings occurring from shore, there’s no telling what kind of activity has been going on in the deeper parts of the bay, beyond the range of beachgoers’ binoculars. The Center for Coastal Studies’ aerial team, which conducts right whale surveys by plane throughout the winter months, won’t begin its field season until early next year, Mayo said.

“The best guess is that we have a scattering of whales, maybe even aggregations, quite early in the season,” Mayo said. “It’s not unheard of at all, but to have this many reports is pretty special. … It just leads me to believe there may be a lot more, or may have been a lot more, going on.”

If the whales are hanging around, he added, it’s probably an indication that there’s a healthy, early supply of zooplankton for them to feed on. The center’s right whale habitat studies team will begin sampling bay waters for plankton levels next month.

North Atlantic right whales are among the rarest of the baleen whale species, with a population that hovers around 473, according to the Center for Coastal Studies. A rich feeding ground for the animals, Cape Cod Bay attracts a number of them every year. In the late winter and spring of 2011, approximately 320 right whales, representing almost three-quarters of the total population, appeared in local waters, leading to a busy field season for Coastal Studies researchers.

Mayo reminded Outer Capers that the return of the right whale allows them to be privileged observers of one of the world’s most unique species.

“People should realize they have something happening here that is more dramatic than anything you see on ‘Animal Planet,’ and it’s right outside their door — in that one of the rarest creatures on earth chooses to come back here to our hometowns every year,” he said."

{Update} First right whale calf of the season!

Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA Permit #15488

The Florida Fish and Wildlife aerial survey team sighted the first mother and calf pair of the season yesterday (Dec 20th) about 7 nmi off the northern tip of Cumberland Island, Georgia. The mother is known to researchers as number 1301 and her calf is estimated to be less than 4 days old at the time of sighting!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

{Press} Maine lobstermen join Gulf of Maine right whale expedition

Bangor Daily News | Tom Walsh | December 19, 2011

JORDAN BASIN, Gulf of Maine — After nearly 50 years of hauling lobster traps, Robert Ingalls can now add “whale spotter” to his nautical resume.

A lobsterman who fishes 800 traps out of the Washington County community of Bucks Harbor, Ingalls, 62, found himself 90 miles offshore last week aboard the 112-foot Friendship V whale-watching vessel as a member of a dawn-to-dusk whale spotting expedition to find and photograph North Atlantic right whales in their Gulf of Maine mating habitat.

It was a trip that embarked long before dawn from Mount Desert Island and ended 14 hours later with the $4 million vessel being greeted back to Southwest Harbor by the orange glow of a rising moon.

Like many Maine lobstermen, Ingalls was forced to comply with a 2009 requirement that, in designated fishing zones, floating rope used in setting lobster traps be replaced by sinking rope as a precaution against right whales becoming entangled in lobster gear while skim feeding near the water’s surface. It is a regulation that collectively has cost Maine lobstermen millions of dollars, even those like Ingalls, who sets traps in water too shallow to normally attract right whales.

“Until today, I was a virgin. I had never seen a right whale, but I had hoped I’d live long enough to one day see one,” Ingalls said. “I’ve never had one in my gear, and, if I did, until today I probably would have had no idea what it was.”

Ingalls figures he spent $8,000 to replace his rope and he now finds that he occasionally loses expensive traps to sinking rope that breaks after chafing on the rocky bottom where lobsters feed.

“You try to stay off the rocks, but there’s not a lot of bottom to choose from,” he said. “Usually somebody’s already there.”

While he found the Dec. 13 expedition interesting, Ingalls feels the mandatory rope swap regulations were overkill.

“I don’t think that losing one whale here or there makes a difference,” he said the next day. “It’s only a stray one that gets into the shallow water. I think they lose more to ship strikes, but it is a big and complex picture.”

Last week’s expedition into right whale breeding grounds within and beyond the Jordan Basin region of the Gulf of Maine was the last of four staged over the past 13 months. The census-by-chance project identifies and catalogs whales that summer off the coasts of Georgia and Florida and return to Maine waters between November and January to breed. Ingalls and fellow lobsterman Mike Myrick, who fishes 700 traps out of the Knox County community of Cushing, were among 20 researchers and volunteers who spotted more than 30 right whales during the dawn-to-dusk expedition, including one that was “logging,” or, in layman’s terms, taking a nap.

“Like Robert, today was the first time I had seen one,” Myrick said of the whales. “I’ve lost some gear to the sinking rope, but you really can’t do much about it. There are certain times of year when lobsters are on mud and others when they are on rock. You have got to play the game and chase [lobsters]. It’s like going to Hollywood Slots; you’re going to win some and lose some.”

Moira Brown, who led the expedition as the senior scientist at Boston’s New England Aquarium, said she was delighted not only with the number of right whales spotted and photographed but with the participation of Ingalls and Myrick as representatives of Maine’s lobster industry. Brown has devoted decades to developing data-based strategies for restoring and protecting North Atlantic right whale populations in both Canada and the United States. She said she appreciates the financial hardships inherent in new lobster gear regulations.

“These guys are helping a whale they’ve never seen, and I think it’s important for them to see these whales and to see up close how we do our research and data collection,” she said. “Not one of these guys wants to hurt or entangle a right whale.”

Nonetheless, 82 percent of the 490 right whales that have been photographed show entanglement scars.

“Lobstermen have made all kinds of accommodations involving their gear to help with right whale recovery, and the idea is to make gear modifications that allow them to fish safely and still make a living,” Brown said. “And the efforts they’ve made have been a big part of the solution. They had to do it, but they’ve embraced it and done it. It’s the only thing that’s going to make this recovery effort work.”

Brown’s best guess is that there are now 500 North Atlantic right whales. That’s at least 400 more than there were 100 years ago, she said. Since 2001, she and other whale researchers have seen a slight increase in the number of right whale calves being born. Brown estimates that since 2001, an average of 22 calves have been born each year.

“It’s trending upward,” she said of the right whale census. “The goal is to recover the population through things like gear modifications and, in shipping, establishing dynamic management areas, where ships are asked to slow down to 10 knots to avoid vessel strikes,” she said. “There’s been a lot of both mandatory and voluntary compliance over the last eight years. There has been a tremendous human effort to try to recover these whales, and it looks like the situation is improving. It’s important that mariners take pride in that.”

Collectively the five members of the research team that Brown recruited for four Gulf of Maine expeditions that began in November 2010 have more than 100 years of professional experience in sighting and cataloging North Atlantic right whales. The second whale spotted during last week’s expedition was identified by its fluke markings as the same whale spotted by one of the research team members 20 years ago in the Roseway Basin south of Nova Scotia. Brown said right whales can live beyond age 60.

The small army of spotters who joined last week’s expedition included volunteers from a range of regional organizations. They included Bar Harbor Whale Watch, the College of the Atlantic, the Sierra Club, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, Down East Nature Tours and the Whale Center of New England in Boston. Funding for the four expeditions was provided by the Canadian Whale Institute in Campobello, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Canadian-based TD Financial Group and Maine’s Department of Marine Resources.

Brown said she’s now seeking funding for additional right whale surveys next year and beyond.

For information about the North Atlantic right whale, visit the New England Aquarium website at

Saturday, December 17, 2011

{Press} North Atlantic right whales spotted in bay

Cape Cod Times | December 17, 2011 | Mary Ann Bragg

"PROVINCETOWN — The seasonal arrival of endangered North Atlantic right whales has begun in Cape Cod Bay with a sighting on Thursday by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Two or three right whales were spotted in Provincetown Harbor, opposite the East End, said Charles "Stormy" Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the center.

"The whales were putting on a show the likes of which I've never seen, except from humpbacks — perhaps 100 breaches, some simultaneous side by side," Mayo said.

Cape Cod Bay and the Great South Channel are designated as critical habitat."

Friday, December 16, 2011

{Press} Right whales return to Cape Cod Bay

Cape Cod Times | December 16, 2011

Thar they blow!

Endangered North Atlantic right whales have returned to their feeding ground in Cape Cod Bay, according to a release from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. The first confirmed sighting was made Thursday, when two to three whales were seen in Provincetown Harbor.

Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the center, reported that "the whales were putting on a show the likes of which I've never ever seen except from humpbacks; perhaps 100 breaches, some simultaneous side by side.”

According to the center, North Atlantic right whales are among the rarest of baleen whale species, with a population of approximately 473.

{Press} North Atlantic right whales check in to Cape Cod bay

The Boston Globe | Amanda Cedrone December 16, 2011

"A group of North Atlantic right whales were spotted in Cape Cod Bay on Thursday, the first official sighting of the season, officials said.

The whales normally arrive in Cape Cod Bay at the end of December through the middle of May, said Cathrine Macort, spokeswoman for the center.

At least two of the critically endangered mammals were spotted about one third of a mile off the coast in Provincetown Harbor by Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Two of the whales were breaching, or jumping, side by side, simultaneously – a rare occurrence for the mammals, Mayo said.

“I’ve never seen them do that in my 25 years of experience,” he said. “Right whales don’t jump as often as humpback whales do. They are not as boisterous.”

The whales breached at least 30 to 50 times, he said.

The creatures largely remain a mystery and Mayo cannot be sure what caused the peculiar conduct.

“We’re talking about animals very close to the land exhibiting extremely rare behavior,” he said. “It’s probably sexual behavior.”

The North Atlantic right whale population is normally split at this time of year, Mayo said. Pregnant females are heading south to the coast of Florida and Georgia to give birth, while the non-pregnant whales can be found in the Gulf of Maine, he said.

The mammals can grow to be 45 to 55 feet long, and weigh up to 70 tons, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric and Atmospheric Administration. The whales are black, with no dorsal fin. They are among the rarest baleen whale species with a population of about 473, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies said in a statement today.

“They’re so rare and their future is so much in doubt,” Mayo said."

{Press} Right whales spotted in Provincetown Harbor

Provincetown Banner | December 16, 2011


"The first confirmed sighting of North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod Bay was recorded yesterday by Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

The two to three whales were spotted in Provincetown Harbor, opposite the East End of Provincetown.

Mayo remarked in a press statement that "the whales were putting on a show the likes of which I've never ever seen except from humpbacks — perhaps 100 breaches, some simultaneous side by side.”

When not breaching, the whales formed a Surface Active Group, or SAG, a type of social behavior between two or more whales that involves frequent body contact, often with whales rolling on their sides or backs. SAGs are thought to play a role in mating, but because they occur throughout the year, many scientists believe that they have other social functions as well, PCCS stated in a press release.

North Atlantic right whales are among the rarest of the baleen whale species, with a population of approximately 473. Cape Cod Bay is a rich feeding ground for the animals; in the first half of 2011, more than 320 individuals (almost three-quarters of the total population) were spotted by scientists in the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies right whale population and habitat research programs."

Friday, December 09, 2011

{Press} Rare North Atlantic right whales spotted off Plymouth

The Patriot Ledger | Lane Lambert | December 8, 2011


Biologists and volunteers with a locally based national marine conservation group are keeping an even closer watch on the waters of Cape Cod Bay after a recent sighting of two rare North Atlantic right whales.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in Plymouth said Wednesday that it confirmed a volunteer spotter’s report late last week of two and possibly three of the endangered whales offshore from Ellisville Harbor State Park near the Cape.

Spokeswoman Karen Urciuoli said the sighting was “very unusual” for early December because right whales typically migrate to the bay from January to May.

While Urciuoli said “we’re always on high watch” for the rights, she said last week’s sighting prompted the conservation group to urge volunteer spotters to pay extra attention to the bay.

The right whales haven’t been seen again this week.

A few right whales have stayed year-round in Cape Cod Bay over the years, but Urciuoli said biologists with the Plymouth group and elsewhere still don’t know enough about the species’ behavior to determine why some are seen out of season, like those spotted last week.

“The fact that we saw them (last week) doesn’t mean they’ve never been here before,” Urciuoli said.

The conservation society is an international organization. Its North American office is in Plymouth.

Right whales are among the most threatened species on the planet, with a known population of fewer than 500. Heavily hunted in the 1800s for oil and whale bone, they’ve been on global endangered lists since 1973.

They’re prone to getting hit by fishing trawlers and other vessels because they’re dark in color and swim just below the ocean surface.

The Whale and Dolphin Society works with the Coast Guard and other groups to maintain a warning system to keep vessels away from where the whales herd, so they won’t be struck.

Lane Lambert is at

Read more:

{Press} Researchers keep watch as right whales return | December 5, 2011

BRUNSWICK — One of the world’s rarest marine mammals is returning to Georgia’s coast. A North Atlantic right whale was seen off South Carolina on last week, the first of a watery winter migration.
Biologists from Sea to Shore Alliance spotted the 29-year-old female right whale during an aerial survey offshore of South Carolina. The whale, known as “Half-Note,” has had four calves and could be pregnant with her fifth. Each right whale can be identified by the unique white pattern on its head.
Patricia Naessig, a Sea to Shore biologist who has flown the right whale aerial surveys off Georgia for the past 10 years, hopes that boaters will keep right whales in mind when venturing off the coast this winter.
“Since right whales are so dark in coloration and have no dorsal fin, it can be very difficult to spot them from the water,” Naessig said.
“You would think that you could easily sight a 50-foot whale, but it is amazing how easily these whales can seemingly appear from nowhere.”
Right whales swim from Canada and New England each year to bear their young along the coast of Georgia, South Carolina and northeastern Florida. Calving season is crucial for this endangered species, which numbers possibly as few as 400 animals.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section, Law Enforcement Section and Coastal Resources Division help federal and other agencies monitor the population, respond to injured, entangled and dead whales, collect genetic samples for research, and protect habitat.
DNR wildlife biologist Clay George, who heads DNR’s right whale research and monitoring efforts, said cooler weather and water temperatures last winter pushed many of the whales farther south, deeper along the Florida coast. Warmer weather is forecast for winter 2011-2012.
“If that holds true,” George said, “we might expect the whales to be more abundant off Georgia this winter.”
Right whales, which can weigh up to 70 tons and reach 50 feet in length, seldom come within sight of land in Georgia, but boaters often see them.
Because ship strikes are a leading cause of right whale injuries and deaths, the federal speed limit for vessels 65 feet or longer is 10 knots at certain times of the year in seasonal management areas, including Nov. 15-April 15 in the southeastern U.S. calving area (
Recreational fishing and other small boats can also pose a risk to the whales. Although these boaters are not required to heed federal speed restrictions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommends they follow them, and keep a sharp lookout for whales.
By federal law, all boats and aircraft must keep at least 500 yards from North Atlantic right whales. Sightings of dead, injured or entangled whales should be reported to NOAA by calling (877) 433-8299.
More than 150 individual right whales, including 21 calves, were seen off the southeastern U.S. last winter. While the population is increasing at an annual rate of 2 percent, there are fewer than 100 breeding females.
Five whales were spotted entangled in commercial fishing gear in the Southeast last winter. DNR, NOAA and other partners freed one of the whales, which was entangled in gillnet gear. Five mortalities were documented last winter. Two whales died from entanglements and one died from a ship strike.
Florida-based Sea to Shore Alliance partners with NOAA and Georgia DNR to fly aerial surveys off South Carolina and Georgia each winter.
Surveys along the South Carolina coast are funded by NOAA and the S.C. Ports Authority. Surveys along the Georgia coast are funded by NOAA and the DNR."

Thursday, December 08, 2011

{Press} Where Can You See Wildlife Right Now: Whales At Cape Cod National Seashore

National Parks Traveler | Kurt Repanshek | December 5, 2011

Winter can be a decent season for spotting whales off Cape Cod National Seashore.

Far and away, most people who want to see whales at Cape Cod National Seashore go looking during the warm summer months. But, according to seashore officials, the winter months can offer glimpses of these leviathans as well.

You just need to be sure to dress warmly, perhaps packing a Thermos of coffee or hot chocolate, carry a good pair of binoculars, and be patient.

According to the seashore, while most adult whales head south to breeding grounds during the winter months, young or non-reproductive whales have no reason to head to the breeding grounds and so sometimes can be spotted hanging out in local waters.

To go in search of whales, head out to some of the ocean and bayside beaches on the Outer Cape and see what you can find. Here, thanks to the seashore, is a list of whales that might be seen:

* North Atlantic Right Whale - Up to 55 feet in length. Cape Cod Bay is one of the few locations in the Gulf of Maine where they are known to congregate. Here in local waters (December - April) they feed mostly on tiny crustaceans near shore, in the eastern parts of Cape Cod Bay. Beaches on both the bayside and ocean in Truro and Provincetown may provide opportunities for right whale sightings. North Atlantic right whales (named because they were the “right” whales to hunt) are the most endangered whales in the world, with approximately 325 still living.

* Fin Whale - Up to 70 feet in length. Fin whales can be seen year-round in Cape Cod waters, and can sometimes be seen close to shore from the northernmost beaches, such as Herring Cove and Race Point, an area known locally as finback alley. Fin whales are relatively fast, therefore extensive hunting didn’t begin until the 20th century, with the advent of modern ships and equipment. Today, population estimates range from 60,000 to 100,000 worldwide.

* Other Whales - Young humpback whales, pilot whales, dolphins, and porpoises are also found year-round, but with the exception of humpback whales, they are seldom seen near shore unless in a stranding situation.

{Press} font increase font decrease Print Story Font Size Watch network preparing for right whale winter migration

The Daytona Beach News Journal | Dinah Voyles Pulver | December 3, 2011

"Female right whale No. 1301, also known as "Half-Note," was the first right whale spotted in the deep Southeast during the 2011-2012 calving season. (Sea to Shore Alliance/NOAA)

Anticipation is keeping right whale lovers waitin' and waitin' for the endangered whales to arrive along Florida's northeast coast for this year's calving season.

"The anticipation of those first whales coming in, and getting ready for the season is like wow!" says Joy Hampp, project coordinator for the Marineland Right Whale Project. "It's really neat. We're all excited."

Mother whales and their entourage of young juveniles and scattered males usually begin arriving off the Flagler and Volusia coasts in mid- to late December, after traveling south from the Bay of Fundy between Maine and Nova Scotia.

A host of preparations takes place before the whales arrive. The Marine Resources Council, based in Brevard County, and the Marineland Right Whale Project in north Flagler plan and begin conducting classes to train spotters to help track whale sightings. The first of those classes locally takes place today.

Reminders also go up along the coast, such as the prerecorded message that began playing on the phone systems of the regional National Weather Service offices this week, to urge boaters to use caution.

Aerial survey teams and the spotter network, which includes more than 800 volunteers along the Florida coast, help collect crucial information about the whales and provide information used to warn large ships when whales are in the area. The whales can weigh up to 70 tons and reach a length of 55 feet. Newborns measure between 13 and 15 feet.

The aerial crew for the Marineland whale project is ready to start flying any day, Hampp said this week. "Once we start getting reports from aerial survey teams to the north, we'll start flying consistently."

The only whale seen in the southeast so far this year is a female known as "Half-Note," who was photographed swimming offshore of South Carolina in late November. Observers noted her large size indicated she is probably pregnant. The whale, numbered 1301, was "swimming slowly and looking pretty big," wrote Dianna Schulte with Sea to Shore Alliance, one of the groups that participates in right whale monitoring.

A 29-year-old female, Half-Note has given birth at least four times, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Called the right whale because they were the "right whale" for early whale hunters, the whale has been protected at least in part for more than 75 years. However, experts say the population, estimated at less than 450, is precariously low.

Boat collisions are considered the leading cause of death among right whales, with entanglements in fishing gear also proving deadly. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration worked over several years to increase protections for the whales to prevent boat strikes and now maintains a system that works with the sighting networks and other organizations to alert commercial and military mariners when whales are present in an area.

Even for volunteers who have worked with the monitoring programs for years, the thrill of seeing one of the large whales offshore never gets old, Hampp said.

"It's funny," she said. "This will be our 12th season and I've talked to volunteers that have been with us the entire time and with veteran researchers that have been doing this for 20 years, and it's still the same anticipation."

Anyone who sees a whale offshore is asked to call the Marine Resources Council's right whale hotline at: 888-979-4253For more information about the Marineland Right Whale Project, call 904-669-8615.

How do you identify a right whale?

Rough, white patches of skin on the head called callosities

Short, stubby, black flippers on the sides of the body

Triangular, black tail with smooth edges and a deep notch in the middle

No dorsal (back) fin

V-shaped blow of water when they exhale

{Press} Ga. researchers say 1st right whales arriving | The Associated Press | November 30, 2011

BRUNSWICK, Ga.—Georgia wildlife researchers say endangered right whales are starting to show up along the southern Atlantic coast.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources says an aerial survey crew spotted the first right whale of the winter calving season last week off the coast of South Carolina.

The whales, which grow up to 50 feet in length, migrate each winter from New England to the warmer waters off South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to give birth. Experts estimate fewer than 400 of the whales remain.

Clay George, who heads the right whale monitoring program for the Georgia DNR, says warmer weather this winter could mean more whales stay off Georgia's 100 mile coast rather than head further south into Florida.

The right whale calving season typically lasts into mid-April."

{Press} Whale Protection Areas and Their Implementation in Future ECDIS

The Maritime Executive | Jens Schröder-Fürstenberg | November 21, 2011

Ships navigating at high speed are still a big danger for the animals in areas where whales are present. Speeds of more than 20 knots are not rare and whales have no chance to avoid “collisions” by themselves.

Several measures have been implemented to protect the whales. Recently, USCG has proposed new routes off California separating ships and whales from each other. The U.S. NOAA has jointly established new PSSA off the US east coast and large parts of the Caribbean with France’s Protected Areas Agency.

PHOTO: A dead North Atlantic Right Whale after being hit by a ship propeller.

Right Whales moving along the U.S. East coast and whale protection areas are established by the U.S. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Those areas, called “Seasonal Management Areas” (SMA) are seasonal. NMFS has also established “Dynamic Management Areas” (DMA) if whales are present outside the SMA. Those dynamic areas are being propagated in several ways. Mariners have to take care on that and have to navigate accordingly. Currently the mariner has to transfer the areas by hand onto the navigational, either paper or electronic. AIS can be used to display the spatial extent of both the seasonal and the dynamic areas on a navigational screen. The latter option depends very much on ship’s equipment.

Therefore it is very necessary to find a satisfactory way of presenting those areas and associated information for all vessels. ECDIS is flexible enough to merit consideration as a sufficient information provider. Actually the ECDISs use a data model called S-57 Standard. S-57 is frozen in many parts and the implementation of new information is difficult. The current ECDIS has limited updating frequency and provides mostly static information. That would make the proper presentation of those dynamic areas difficult if not to say impossible.

With the rollout of ECDIS carriage requirement as primary navigational tool for all SOLAS vessels starting 2012 both the administration and the mariner will have a new tool in hand to bring those areas to mariners’ attention and to have their spatial extent currently in force available on a chart (ECDIS screen) aboard. With better broadband and new techniques the updating of the information can be more frequent than today.

Since 2010 the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) has established a new data framework called S-100 ( This framework, based on existing ISO 1900 series and extensions, can be used to develop ENC related products required by interested communities. One requirement is the implementation of nautical information in ECDIS systems. Taking this requirement into account is the main goal of the IHO’s Standardization of Nautical Publication Working Group (SNPWG). Besides the development and improvement of the data model to make nautical information compatible with ECDIS SNPWG is developing their first product specification. Also based on U.S. intervention SNPWG is developing a Product Specification for Marine Protected Areas (MPA).

This particular Product Specification can be used as a single product and as additional information to ENC. The MPAs are categorized using those categories provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and those restrictions, e.g. Navigation Prohibited, already present in the current S-57 standard.

The presentation of the information to the mariner can be highly customized by referring to particular vessel’s characteristics. Additionally, the mariner can choose between different levels of information. The Annex provides examples of how the model can be applied to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and to the Great South Channel Seasonal Management Area.
The product Specification is not complete yet. The SNPWG is making efforts to improve the Feature Dictionary and the Encoding Guide and liaise with other IHO working groups to find a portrayal solution which satisfactory."

Monday, November 21, 2011

{Press} Right whale guardians may be endangered

The Post and Courier | Bo Petersen | November 21, 2011

"The giants soon will arrive offshore. The rare right whales have begun to head south to calve.

An airplane survey crew already is in place in the Lowcountry, waiting on the weather to lift before beginning a winter of flights looking for the mammoths and alerting nearby ships to their presence. For the next five months of calving season, that lone propeller plane and its cramped spotters are on the lookout for some of the most endangered animals in the world and the busy commercial ports of three states.

Starting next year, the crossing guard might not be out there so often. The five-year State Ports Authority grant that has been paying half the $440,000-a-year cost of the Sea to Shore Alliance flights will run out next year. For that money, the group will turn to uncertain National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants that now pay the other half.

Dianna Schulte, the survey crew leader, frankly concedes the job can't be done effectively for $200,000. Cynthia Taylor, the research scientist in charge of the effort, said the alliance is hoping NOAA makes up the difference. But more NOAA funds aren't certain, and there might be fewer flights, she said. There's no telling what will happen down the road with budget-crunched public money.

"We might not always fly," she said.

The right whale is the nearly extinct 40-ton, 50-foot-long mammal that whalers all but wiped out in the 19th century. Only about 400 are known to exist today, so few that researchers consider every whale vital to the survival of the species. The whales travel back and forth from their summer feeding grounds off New England to calve in the warmer winter waters off the Southeast coast.

Those waters are heavily trafficked. The presence of the whales and rules to protect them are disrupting everything from commercial shipping to naval warfare training.

Partly because of the aerial survey work, NOAA in 2008 mandated that large ships within 23 miles of the coast must slow to half-speed when the whales are around. Shipping and ports interests fought the rule. Observers say it is sometimes violated by both military and commercial vessels.

The Ports Authority offered the grant in 2007 as part of its proposal for a new shipping terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston, because of environmentalists' concerns about increased shipping traffic's impact on the whales. That terminal is now in development.

SPA spokesman Byron Miller said there are no plans to renew the grant. "We had an agreement. This is the final year of the agreement," he said.

Taylor said the best protection for the whales is for ships to slow down.

"I know my colleagues, including the State Ports Authority, aren't happy about that," she said. But "we can't change the whale's behavior. We can only change human behavior."

{Press} Whale migrating season under way | November 19, 2011

"The calving season for the endangered right whale has begun and mariners are asked to report any sightings of the whale as it migrates south along waters off the East Coast.

According to NOAA, whale calving season begins in mid-November and runs through mid-April, which means these large whales are on the move, making their way down the southeast coast.

Boaters are asked to report sightings of the endangered whale and keep a distance of at least 500 yards from the protected species. Scientists estimate as few as approximately 360 right whales remain, making the right whale one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world.

Each winter pregnant right whales migrate south 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, according to a news release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Right whales are large but because they are dark with no dorsal fin they can be difficult to see.

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 and follow seasonal ship speed restrictions.

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

{Press} Endangered right whales back in southern waters

The St. Augustine Record | November 16, 2011

"Right whales are returning to area waters for calving season, giving residents a chance to see one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world and giving boaters a reason to proceed with caution.

The whales, which can be found as close as three miles offshore, depending on water depth, spend the summer in the cooler waters off New England and Canada.

Pregnant whales return to the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida from mid-November through mid-April to give birth and nurse their young.

These southern waters are the only known calving area for the species.

Only 360 right whales remain in the world, scientists estimate.

Boaters are urged to be cautious and follow laws on speed and distance regulations when they encounter right wales.

“Right whales are dark with no dorsal fin and they often swim slowly at or just below the water’s surface,” said Barb Zoodsma, NOAA Fisheries Service’s Southeast right whale recovery program coordinator. “Many mariners mistakenly assume that because of their large size, right whales would be easy to see, but often a slight difference in texture on the water’s surface is the only clue that a whale is present.”

To reduce the risk of collisions between right whales and vessels, NOAA and its partners conduct aerial surveys over northeastern Florida and Georgia waters from December through March, and in New England waters from January through December.

Also, surface buoys are deployed to acoustically detect right whales. The nearly real-time information from these aerial surveys and 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.


How did right whales get their name?

Whalers gave the name “right” whale to this species because they thought it was the right, correct, whale to hunt. The whale was easy to kill because it swam slowly and once dead, it floats. This made it easier for the whalers to pull the whales onto ships and to shore to boil the blubber for oil. Whale oil was used in lamps and for heat until the late 1800s.

— From NOAA


Boating restrictions and tips

■ Boaters should report right whale sightings and keep a distance of at least 500 yards from the protected species, as federal law requires.

■ Report dead, injured or entangled whales to the U.S. Coast Guard via marine radio VHF Channel 16 or call the NOAA Fisheries Service Stranding Hotline at 1-877-433-8299.

■ Federal law requires vessels longer than 65 feet 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 from Nov. 1 through April 30 and in the southeastern U.S. calving area from Nov. 15 through April 15.

■ For information on seasonal ship speed restrictions, go to

How to spot a right whale

■ Black to dark gray skin sometimes with white splotches on belly or neck

■ Large white bumps on the head called callosities

■ Black, paddle-shaped, short, stubby flippers

■ Black, deeply notched, triangular tail

■ No dorsal fin on its back

■ V-shaped blow from blowhole when whale exhales, which is visible only when positioned directly in front of the whale or directly behind

How they act

■ May not move away from boat’s path

■ Movement may be unpredictable

■ Mothers and calves travel together

■ Calves may be curious and approach vessels

■ Calves have limited diving ability, so mothers and calves spend a lot of time near the surface

— From NOAA

Saturday, November 12, 2011

{Press} Boaters beware: Endangered right whales heading south for calving season

The Island Packet | Tom Barton |November 11, 2011

"Be mindful of the whale. There's a baby onboard.

Federal officials are asking boaters and fishermen along the southern Atlantic coast to keep an eye out for endangered right whales, which are heading south for their calving season.

Pregnant North Atlantic right whales start arriving off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida in mid-November to give birth to their calves in the warmer southern waters, and stay through mid-April. The southeastern coast is their only known calving ground.

With only 300 to 400 in existence, right whales are among the most endangered whales in the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

Barb Zoodsma, NOAA right whale recovery program coordinator, warns that the whales can be tough to spot and tend to swim just below the surface. That puts them at risk of fatal collisions with boats.

Propeller strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are the two greatest threats to the whales, according to NOAA.

Zoodsma said boaters should report any sightings of right whales and keep at least 500 yards away.

An injured right whale bearing gashes where it had been mauled by a propeller was spotted off the coast near Beaufort in January. It was photographed by an aerial survey crew Jan. 20 about 15 miles southeast of St. Helena Sound.

NOAA scientists and researchers in February performed an autopsy on a 31-foot, 15,000-pound right whale pulled from the water after being found floating dead off St. Augustine, Fla. Initial observations showed the whale had been entangled for months in fishing rope, preventing it from feeding and making it easy prey for sharks. Numerous lesions and shark bite marks were found on the carcass, according to NOAA.

Survey crews track the animals from the air in partnership with the S.C. Ports Authority, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service to study the whales and help warn boaters of their presence.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at

Read more:"

Friday, November 11, 2011

{Press} Whale calving season advisory for Southeast coast

The Digitel Myrtle Beach | Paul Reynolds | November 10, 2011

"There are only 360 North Atlantic right whales that are known to exist making them one of the most endangered whales in the world. Every year from November until April, they migrate over a 1000 miles to our warm waters to give birth to their calves.

“Right whales are dark with no dorsal fin and they often swim slowly at or just below the water’s surface,” said Barb Zoodsma, NOAA Fisheries Service’s southeast right whale recovery program coordinator. “Many mariners mistakenly assume that because of their large size, right whales would be easy to see, but often a slight difference in texture on the water’s surface is the only clue that a whale is present.

The right whale can weigh up to 70 tons and measure over 50 feet in length. Read more about the right whale here. If you see a right whale out on the water, it may be tempting to get a closer look. But approach with extreme caution and don't get too close.

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. More information is here.
Right Whale Identification

Black to dark-grey skin sometimes with white splotches on belly or neck.
Large white bumps on the head called callosities.
Black, paddle-shaped, short, stubby flippers.
Black, deeply notched, triangular tail.
No dorsal fin on its back.
V-shaped blow from blowhole when whale exhales, which is visible only when positioned directly in front of the whale or directly behind."

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

{Press} Off-shore slow speed zone aims to add protection for whales

Gloucester Times | Richard Gaines | November 8, 2011

"Seeking to add new protections for the habitat's endangered right whales, NOAA Fisheries Service on Monday announced a vessel speed restriction zone in the vicinity of Jeffreys Ledge, which runs from about 10 miles due east of Cape Ann north-northeast for about 30 miles.

The action comes one week after the Humane Society of the United States and other environmental groups filed suit against NOAA Fisheries, asking a federal court in Massachusetts to hold the NOAA Fisheries accountable for continuing to allow four federal fisheries to injure and kill endangered whales, including the northern right whale.

NOAA Fisheries said there are less probably less than 400 northern right whales in today's ocean.

The suit argues that allowing fixed gear and ropes in the lobster, dogfish, monkfish and multispecies fisheries — ranging along the entire Atlantic Coast south to the Carolinas — puts whales in danger.

Whales and porpoises entangle in lines to pots and traps, and in gillnets that hang from the surface to the bottom with small mesh.

"Already, 2011 has seen the death of two right whales from entanglement, as well as at least seven additional new entanglement reports for right whales," the Humane Society said in a prepared statement. "Since June alone, eight endangered humpback whales have been reported with first-time entanglements.""

In a related development, organizers have filed appropriate language with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office for a binding referendum in the 2012 ballot that would bar the use of fixed fishing gear in state waters — the three miles from shore to the inner border of the 200-mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

NOAA Fisheries said the speed zone limit would remain in effect through Nov. 16.

The voluntary speed zone for boats in the Jeffreys Ledge area was set at 10 knots. The zone itself was outlined to run from latitude 43 degrees, 26 minutes north, to 42 degrees, 39 minutes north, and 070 degrees, 41 minutes west to 069 degrees, 37 minutes west.

Like Stellwagen Bank, which Jeffreys intersects at its southern extension, Jeffreys is also a bank of relatively shallow water — with depths of 100 to 180 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It is covered with boulders, gravel and ridges that resemble terminal moraines, droppings from glacial ice at the forward edge.

At the western edge is a well-defined scarp — a steep sandy slope of 75 to 100 feet, somewhat like an underwater sand dune.

The fish, fishermen and whales that prey on fish tend to gather on Jeffreys no less than they do on Stellwagen.

"Mariners are requested to avoid or transit at 10 knots or less inside the following areas where persistent aggregations of right whales have been sighted," NOAA Fisheries' announcement said

Sponsors of the initiative petition that would ask voters to bar fixed gear for fishing and lobstering from state waters need to file 68,911 signatures from certified voters by Dec. 7. That would compel the Legislature to either approve the ban on or before the first Wednesday in May, or see it go on the 2012 state ballot.

The northern right whale migrates from along the Atlantic Coast heading north in the spring and south in the fall. The animals are known as "right" whales because they were the most inshore of the great whales and in the 18th and 19th centuries were harvested first, and most easily. They were the right whales to the whalers.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or at"

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

{Press} Right Whale Sighting off Maine Coast Prompts Mariner Alert

The Maine Public Broadcasting Network | November 7, 2011

"A group of about 12 endangered right whales was sighted last week in the vicinity of Jeffreys Ledge off the Maine coast, prompting federal fishery regulators to request that mariners slow down in the area or avoid it altogether.

Federal fishery regulators are asking vessels in the vicinity of Jeffreys Ledge off the Maine coast to slow down.

NOAA Fisheries Service says a group of 12 endangered right whales was spotted in the area last week, prompting the agency to establish a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone.

The agency is asking mariners to slow down to 10 knots or less in areas where right whales have been sighted, or to avoid the areas altogether. The so-called Dynamic Management Area, or DMA, is in effect through Nov. 16.

Only about 400 right whales are known to exist in the North Atlantic. The whales are often sighted feeding this time of year near Jeffreys Ledge, a rich fishing area off the Maine coast."

Friday, November 04, 2011

{Conference} North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium

Spent two great days being inspired by ideas and research from the world's leading authorities on the North Atlantic Right Whale. Obviously there was a ton of information but a really really quick summary of the year in the life of the right whale is:

490 Middle estimate number of individuals based on photo-id (up from 473 last year!)

22 New calves born this year (including 5 to first time mothers!)

5 Documented right whale mortalities this year

11 Right whales documented with new entanglements in fishing gear

We still have a lot of work to do but the population is slowly slowly increasing...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

{Press} Federal agency sued for whale protection

Cape Cod Times | Mary Ann Bragg | November 02, 2011

"BOSTON — A lawsuit filed in federal court Monday could push the National Marine Fisheries Service to do more to protect endangered whales from fishing gear entanglements off Cape Cod.

Three nonprofit whale advocacy groups filed the lawsuit in Boston seeking better protections for North Atlantic right whales, humpbacks, fin and sei whales in seas roughly three to 200 miles off the coast from Maine to Cape Hatteras, N.C.
Related Stories

Fishing industries that receive federal authorization to land lobster, ground fish, monkfish and spiny dogfish use gear that entangles the whales, according to the lawsuit.

In 2011, at least seven right whale entanglements and 10 humpback entanglements have occurred in the region, as well as at least two right whale deaths from injuries related to the errant fishing gear, the lawsuit states.

The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society filed the suit.

The groups want to force the fisheries service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to do a complete analysis of the effects of the four fishing industries on the endangered whales.

A spokeswoman for the service declined comment Tuesday, saying the federal agency doesn't speak about pending litigation."

{Press} Fishermen Kill Rare Whales, Enviros Say

Courthouse News Service | Kevin Koeninger | November 02, 2011

"BOSTON (CN) - The Humane Society says commercial fishing in the Atlantic threatens the recovery, and the very existence, of endangered whales. Fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales survive, and the defendant National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledges that the "'loss of even a single individual may contribute to the extinction of the species,'" according to the federal complaint.
The Humane Society of the United States, the Defenders of Wildlife and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society seek an injunction and declaratory judgment that the federal agencies that are supposed to protect the whales violated the Endangered Species Act.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assistant administrator Eric Schwaab and Secretary of Commerce John Bryson are named as defendants.
"Each year, critically endangered North American right whales and endangered humpback, fin, and sei whales become entangled in commercial fishing gear," the complaint states. "In these incidents, fishing line wraps around whales' heads, flippers, or tails, often impending basic movement, feeding, and reproduction, causing infection, and sometimes preventing the animals from resurfacing, resulting in drowning.
"The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world's most endangered large whales, with an estimated population of less than 400 individuals. In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service ('NMFS') has previously stated that the 'loss of even a single individual may contribute to the extinction of the species.' 69 Fed. Reg. 30,857, 30,858 (June 1, 2004). NMFS has cited entanglements in commercial fishing gear as one of the most significant threats to the right whale's survival and recovery. Yet, almost every year since 2002, at least one entangled right whale has been found dead or so gravely injured that death is deemed likely. Entanglements also continue to threaten the recovery of endangered humpback, fin, and sei whales.
"Nevertheless, and only after litigation over NMFS's nine-year delay in completing consultation, NMFS issued four biological opinions on October 29, 2010 that conclude that the continued operation of four federal fisheries - the American Lobster Fishery, the Northeast Multispecies Fishery, the Monkfish Fishery, and the Spiny Dogfish Fishery (collectively, 'the fisheries') - is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species."
The environmentalists say the deaths and injuries are continuing: "Indeed, so far in 2011 there have been at least seven new right whale entanglements, ten new humpback entanglements, and at least two right whales have died from entanglement-related injuries.
"The agency's continued authorization of these fisheries that it acknowledges will
cause the take of endangered species without an incidental take statement violates Section 9 of the ESA. 16 U.S.C. § 1538. The agency's continued authorization of these fisheries that it acknowledges will cause the take of marine mammals without a take authorization pursuant to Section 101(a)(5)(E) of the MMPA, is also arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with the MMPA, in violation of the APA, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706."
They add: "These recent deaths, serious injuries, and entanglements demonstrate that NMFS's key assumption underlying its 'no jeopardy' finding for right whales is erroneous and thus that its 2010 Biological Opinions are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law, in violation of the Administrate Procedure Act."
Despite the continuing deaths, and new information about them the "NMFS has failed to reinitiate consultation as to the effects of these fisheries on endangered whales, as required by ESA's implementing regulations," the complaint states.
The environmentalist say the fisheries have failed to follow guidelines of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, whose "central purpose ... is to prevent marine mammal stocks from falling below their 'optimum sustainable population' levels" and which prohibits "actions that kill or injure mammals or disrupt behavioral patterns, such as migration, breathing, breeding, or feeding."
The NMFS claims that reducing ship speed and decreasing the amount of fishing in the areas will reduce risk to the whales. But the plaintiffs say, "NMFS fails to consider the times and areas that do not receive the protection of ship speed restrictions, the impacts from exempted vessels, and the gross lack of compliance with the speed restrictions in the places they do apply. Moreover ... NMFS also fails to consider that while federal fishing restrictions may lead to an overall decrease in federal fishing efforts, fishing is actually increasing in areas in which whales are known to frequent. NMFS's assumption that these measures will be sufficiently protective of endangered whales is misplaced, as evidenced by a series of recent deaths and injuries."
The plaintiffs seek an order "compelling NMFS to (1) reinitiate and complete consultation regarding the effects of the American Lobster, Northeast Multispecies, Monkfish, and Spiny Dogfish Fisheries on endangered North Atlantic right whales, humpback whales, fin whales, and sei whales, in order to insure the fisheries are not likely to jeopardize the species' continued existence as required by the ESA, (2) complete the analyses necessary to determine whether take of these endangered whales may be legally authorized pursuant to the ESA and MMPA, and (3) require operation of the fisheries in compliance with any mitigation measures necessary to insure compliance with both the ESA and MMPA.
They are represented by Humane Society senior attorney Kimberly Ockene, of Auburndale, Mass."

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

{Press} Groups File Lawsuit to Prevent Illegal Deaths of Endangered Whales

"BOSTON--(ENEWSPF)--November 1, 2011. Conservation and animal protection groups filed a lawsuit yesterday asking a federal court in Massachusetts to hold the National Marine Fisheries Service accountable for continuing to allow four federal fisheries to injure and kill endangered whales, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Each year, endangered whales become entangled in commercial fishing gear. Entanglement makes it harder for them to swim, feed and reproduce and it can cause a chronic infection or even drowning.

Already, 2011 has seen the death of two right whales from entanglement, as well as at least seven additional new entanglement reports for right whales. Since June alone, eight endangered humpback whales have been reported with first time entanglements.

“Every single right whale counts when it comes to ensuring the species’ survival, but the Fisheries Service continues to place whales at risk of injury and death,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Safeguarding the right whale from entanglements in fishing gear is a vital step towards moving this species out of the emergency room and onto the path to recovery.”

“The Fisheries Service is well aware that North Atlantic right whales need better protections, yet it is allowing these fisheries to continue to operate without them,” said Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “The Fisheries Service needs to take immediate action to put protections in place to make the fisheries safer. If they don’t act now, we will see the extinction of the right whale in our lifetime.”

“In an increasingly busy ocean, the survival and recovery of the North Atlantic right whale depends on protecting each individual from entanglement-related injuries and deaths,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, senior biologist for Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.


The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered large whales, with an estimated population of less than 400 individuals. In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) has previously stated that the “loss of even a single individual may contribute to the extinction of the species.”

NMFS has cited entanglements in commercial fishing gear as one of the most significant threats to the right whale’s survival and recovery. Yet, almost every year since 2002, at least one entangled right whale has been found dead or so gravely injured that death is deemed likely.

In addition to right whales, fishing gear used by the American lobster, northeast multispecies, monkfish, and spiny dogfish fisheries continues to injure and kill endangered humpback, fin, and sei whales.

Today’s lawsuit was filed by Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in the federal district court for Massachusetts."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

{Press} Right whales still creatures of mystery

The Chronicle | Davene Jeffrey | October 7, 2011

"Researchers have been studying North American right whales for the past 30 years but much about the mammoth mammals remains a mystery.

One-quarter of the world’s population of 475 North American right whales leave the warm waters off Florida every spring and disappear somewhere into the North Atlantic, says Scott Kraus, the New England Aquarium’s vice-president of research.

"These animals are just missing."

Another quarter veer slightly east on their seasonal swim up the Eastern Seaboard and spend their summers in an area of the ocean called the Roseway Basin, about 65 kilometres south of the southern tip of Nova Scotia.

And about half of them regularly summer in the Bay of Fundy.

Last week researchers counted about 60 in one day.

Last year was different. Most of them didn’t show up. Researchers only counted about 50 whales in the bay that entire season.

"It’s looking like last year was just an anomaly," said longtime researcher Moira Brown, who is also based at the aquarium.

Other strange happenings in the whale world occurred in the bay in 2010 as well.

"For the first time in our 32-year study, we had sperm whales, quite a few of them, seven or eight of them. In the last 30 years, we’ve seen two sperm whales in the Bay of Fundy," Kraus said.

Why sperm whales suddenly showed up is a head-scratcher for the marine biologists, although Kraus suggests they might have been chasing squid.

Some people speculate the presence of the sperm whales could explain why the right whales went elsewhere, Kraus said.

Sperm whales make very loud echolocation clicks and "maybe that is just annoying to everybody else," he said. "We really have no idea."

While the return of the right whales to the Bay of Fundy this year is good news for researchers, the whales do appear to be shifting their travel trends.

In the ’90s, the whales typically summered in the bay between July and mid-October, but "over the last 10 or 15 years we’ve see this shift," Kraus said. "We hardly ever see any right whales in July any more and they’ve moved much later in the season. Even this year, in August we didn’t have a whole lot of whales but then they really piled in in September."

The scientists have been looking at links between climate change and whale movement but with so many unknowns, Kraus said drawing any sort of conclusions is very tricky.

What they do know for sure is that over the past decade, the right whale has experienced a slight population growth of about one per cent a year.

Two Canadian whale preservation measures have had great success, Kraus said.

Shipping lanes changes in the Bay of Fundy and near Roseway Basin have decreased the number of whale-ship collisions in Canadian waters by between 80 and 90 per cent, Kraus said.

But North Atlantic whales are still struggling for survival with the commercial fishery, said Brown

"About 82 per cent of whales have scars on their body from entanglements with fishing gear," she said.

In Canada, there has been very little movement on part of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to regulate the fishery, Kraus said.

However, in the United States "there’s a lot of effort but we’re not seeing much success either," he said.


Monday, October 10, 2011

{Training} NOAA U Fish

I spent a week in Silver Springs, Maryland taking a course designed for new NOAA employees. Drinking the NOAA kool-aid...

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

{Press} Right whale population up in Bay of Fundy

"The population of North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy is continuing to improve as a series of measures seems to be protecting the species, according to a marine biologist.

Moira Brown, a marine biologist with the New England Aquarium, said 60 whales were counted in the Bay of Fundy on one day in mid-September, which is more than her team counted all season last year.

Brown said efforts, like moving shipping lanes out of the whales migratory paths have cut down on collisions with ships by 90 per cent, helping to bring right whale populations back from the brink of extinction.

“In the big picture, the population is starting to increase a little bit,” Brown said.

“It's small, it's about two per cent a year — sort of like interest rates at the bank right now — but that's a much better picture than 10 years ago.”

Moira Brown, a marine biologist with the New England Aquarium, said the right whale population has increased since reforms to shipping lanes were introduced in 2003. Moira Brown, a marine biologist with the New England Aquarium, said the right whale population has increased since reforms to shipping lanes were introduced in 2003. CBCBrown has been going to Lubec, Maine, every summer for 32 years to study right whales in the Bay of Fundy.

Right whales can be 16 metres in length and weigh up to 40,000 kilograms. They were hunted extensively in previous centuries and that drove the number of whales down to a few dozen when they were finally put on an endangered list.

The right whale population is now estimated to be between 400 and 500.

Researchers say 21 right whale calves survived their trip to the Bay of Fundy from Florida this season.
Bay of Fundy a 'safer place for right whales'

Brown said the decision to shift the shipping routes in the Bay of Fundy has been a significant factor in helping to protect the whales.

"So now, the Bay of Fundy, the high concentration area for right whales is a lot safer place for right whales,” she said.

“We've reduced the risk of vessel collisions substantially by 90 per cent and it's probably a lot quieter too because the ships are travelling further to the east."

Despite the measures, right whales continue to have run-ins with fishing boats in the bay. There are other measures that could be taken to further protect the species.

Amy Knowlton, a marine biologist with the New England Aquarium, said Canada needs to join American states that are starting to legislate the design and location of fishing nets and lines in the region.

The entanglement issue is still a huge problem,” Knowlton said.

“We know we lost two individuals this winter from entanglement, we have another five or six animals carrying gear.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

{Press} Number of right whales up in Bay of Fundy

Telegraph Journal | John Chilibeck and Chris Morris | September 26, 2011

"On the odd day when the curtain of fog has lifted on the Bay of Fundy over the last two months, whale researchers have been thrilled with what they've seen.

A research team led by Moira Brown, right, based out of Lubec, Maine, has counted more than 140 whales in the bay since it began looking on Aug. 1, including 11 mother-calf pairs.

The North Atlantic right whale has had a comeback after a dismal showing last season.

"Last year was terrible - we counted only 55 whales the whole season," said veteran researcher Moira Brown late last week. "And when we were out last Sunday and Monday,
the weather was good for two days, which is a miracle this year, and we saw more than 55 whales in those two days."

All told, her research team based out of Lubec, Maine, have counted more than 140 whales in the bay since they began looking on Aug. 1, including 11 mother-calf pairs.

"That's a great number. To be able to count that many individuals in a two-month whale season and know that the mothers are still alive and the calves have made it, all the way from Florida to the Bay of Fundy, that's a good field season for us."

It's by no means a record in the 32 years scientists have been counting the whales, which swim up every season from their southern calving grounds, but it is part of a positive trend. A little over a decade ago, Brown was depressed to report that the right whale population was decreasing by 2.5 per cent a year, with females giving birth to only 11 calves on average between December and March off of Florida.

The last decade has seen a turnaround, with an average of 22 calves born each year. This year wasn't far off the mark with 21 calves born - only one has died so far that researchers know of and they don't expect to see or count every one of them in the bay this season. The population of the rarest of all large whale species is now on the rebound, going up by two per cent a year.

Considering that right whales were nearly driven to extinction at the dawn of the 20th century - they were a favourite target because they were slow and so full of blubber that they floated to the surface after they were harpooned - scientists such as Brown are fairly optimistic. From only perhaps a dozen a century ago, the animals are now believed to number between 400 and 500.

The whales have more protection from ship strikes than they've ever had. In 2003, Brown and her colleagues at the New England Aquarium in Boston successfully convinced the International Maritime Organization to change shipping lanes, the first time they were ever amended to avoid an endangered marine species.

Brown said thanks to funding partners such as Irving Oil and the Island Foundation in Marion, Mass., research and education efforts are having an impact.

However, the whales are still getting tangled in fishing gear. About three-quarters of the whales show evidence of scarring, which isn't always a problem, but can be deadly if the ropes entangle a fin or mouth. When infections take hold, the creatures can have difficulty swimming or eating.

"We've seen some whales this year with some pretty severe scarring with encounters with fishing gear, and again, that happens throughout their range. And it's such a difficult problem. We've been trying to deal with this problem since 1996, and that's a fairly long time now, and there's no silver bullet answer. And so we continue to struggle with that one."

Brown said last year's anomaly of fewer whales spotted could be explained by oceanographers. In 2010, fresher water came from the Arctic on the Labrador current and warmer water came in from the Gulf stream. The mix in the Gulf of Maine disrupted the normal plankton distribution, and the whales sought their favourite food elsewhere.

If the whales keep procreating at the current rate, Brown said the population could double in 35-odd years.

"I don't think we'll see 1,000 right whales while I'm alive, but the next generation should, if we keep going this way," she said. "I wouldn't have been able to say that five years ago. So the population is inching up and as long as the whales do their part and keep having babies, and the conservation efforts work and in the next few years we figure out how to stop entanglements in fishing gear, humans are doing a pretty good job to change the outcome for an endangered species."

{Press} Whale skull found in Brewster

Cape Cod Times | Eric Williams | September 22, 2011

"BREWSTER — Someone call Indiana Jones! A giant, mysterious whale skull has been unearthed near Ellis Landing Beach.

"We're channeling our inner archaeologists, which is something we've never done before," said Brian Sharp, stranding coordinator for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Related Stories

While IFAW is better known for rescuing live marine mammals, they were called in to exhume the approximately 6-foot-long chunk of what is believed to be a right whale skull.

The skull was discovered Tuesday, when grounds crew members from the nearby Ocean Edge Resort attempted to remove what they thought was a small rock protruding from the sand, according to Sharp. Turns out, they had a whale by the skull. And a day later, three shovel-wielding IFAW staffers were hip-deep in a sand crater, trying to decipher a crumbling cranium.

The skull is believed to weigh about 400 pounds and is in fragile condition because of its exposure to water. The skull sits face-down in the sand, and parts of it appear to be missing, including the jaw bones.

Sharp said IFAW officials have consulted with staff at the New England Aquarium to see whether a whale stranding had occurred in the area over the past few decades. Nothing popped up immediately, leading Sharp to guess that the skull possibly dates from before 1974.

An extraction effort will likely be attempted this morning, with help from the town of Brewster, an IFAW spokeswoman said.

Once the skull is liberated, the "CSI" work can begin. The goal will be to "extract some DNA and be able to confirm that it is a right whale, and also potentially find out the lineage of this animal, since so much is known about right whale genetics," Sharp said.

"Maybe it will get matched up to some of the right whales that we currently have visiting us in the wintertime," he said."

{Press} Whale skull unearthed in Brewster

Cape Cod Times | Eric Williams | September 21, 2011

"BREWSTER — International Fund for Animal Welfare officials have uncovered what they believe is the skull of a North Atlantic right whale on Ellis Landing Beach today.

The large bone was discovered yesterday by a grounds crew from the nearby Ocean Edge Resort, according to IFAW officials. The resort crew thought the skull was a rock protruding from the sand that posed a toe-stubbing hazard to beachgoers. When the crew members attempted to remove it, however, they found there was much more below the surface and that it was not a rock.

IFAW and Brewster town officials were notified and are using shovels to dig around the bony structure, which appears to be 6-feet wide and 2 1/2-feet tall. At noon, it was unclear how much more of the skull was still buried under the sand. The skull showed signs of deterioration under the waterline, an IFAW official at the scene said.

Town of Brewster officials are still trying to figure out if they can get it off the beach today and where it would be taken. Wherever it ends up, scientists will study the skull and attempt to determine the identify of the whale and its lineage. Whales are identified by their flukes.

North Atlantic right whales are on the federal endangered species list. There are only about 300 to 400 North Atlantic right whales left in the Atlantic."


editors note:

Right whales are not identified by their flukes but rather by the pattern of callosity on their heads along with other scars and identifiable marks.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

{Press} Interactive Display Shows Where and When Right Whales Are Sighted

NOAA Fisheries Service | Shelley Dawicki | September 15, 2011

"An interactive visual display of North Atlantic Right Whale sightings is now available and the data easily accessible, thanks to a Google Earth interface with a live connection to the NEFSC’s Oracle database. Visitors interested in knowing where and when sightings have occurred can display the Center’s North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Survey and Sighting Advisory System data in map or table format over different time periods. A click on the whale tale icon on the map, for example, will provide information about that particular sighting, or display the data in table form. The brainchild of aerial survey team leader Tim Cole of the Center’s Protected Species Branch, the interactive visual display is a collaboration between Christin Khan and Beth Josephson of the Protected Species Branch, and Kurt Schwehr at the NOAA Joint Hydrographic Center/Visualization Lab at the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping. The interactive display, which also highlights seasonal management areas and provides information for mariners and how to report right whale sightings, will hopefully raise awareness of the whereabouts of right whales throughout the year and support efforts to reduce the threat of ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear, the most common human causes of serious injury and death for this critically endangered population."

The link is:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

{Press} DNR to use site off Brunswick's waterfront for whale necropsies | Mike Morrison | September 9, 2011

"BRUNSWICK - A sandy beach across the East River from downtown will be the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ staging area for whale necropsies.

With the northern right whale migration nearing to winter calving waters off South Georgia and North Florida, it’s important to have a site designated for safety as well as scientific reasons, DNR wildlife biologist Clay George said Wednesday night.

George, from the Wildlife Resources Division office off the Brunswick River, asked the City Commission for permission to use a city-owned causeway to access the site on Andrews Island. The island itself is controlled by the Georgia Department of Transportation and is used as a dump site for dredge spoil.

The commission tentatively agreed, subject to the implementation of a memorandum of understanding between the two parties and other involved agencies and individuals.

“Northern right whales are one of the most endangered animals in the world,” George said. “They migrate in our coastal waters to their calving grounds. Every three or four years, one is found floating offshore.”

If left floating, the whale carcasses can be a hazard to navigation or wash up on a beach, he said.

Fewer than 400 of the endangered mammals are left in the North Atlantic.

They are massive creatures, reaching 55 feet and weighing as much as 115 tons. Slow and full of blubber, whalers hunted them to near-extinction more than a century ago. Now, they are subject to killing strikes from the large ships that ply the East Coast.

Should one be found dead off Brunswick, the carcass would be towed inshore, passing under the Sidney Lanier Bridge on its way to the sandy area across from Mary Ross Park in downtown Brunswick.

The DNR would deliver heavy equipment across the causeway to the site, which would be used to haul the carcass out of the water for dissection and examination to determine the cause of death, George said.

After conducting an extensive survey of the area, the DNR identified Andrews Island as the only appropriate site.

The process of examining and disposing of a whale carcass would span three days, George said. On the first day, the whale would be towed to the site to site. On the second day, it would be hauled out of the water and examined before being buried on the island. On the third day, the site would be cleaned up and the heavy equipment removed.

“Within a week, there would be no signs of the operation remaining,” George said.

The operation and cleanup would be paid for by the DNR, George said.

The commission agreed to the request without discussion, except to verify the extent of the city’s involvement.

Commissioner Cornell Harvey wanted and received assurances the city’s only involvement would be in providing access to the causeway to Andrews Island."

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

{Press} Waters around New Brunswick merit protection, new study says

Daily Gleaner | Sabrina Doyle | September 7, 2011

"The waters around New Brunswick and along the northeast American coastline have been cited in a new study as being among the top nine marine places in the world that merit protection.

The study criteria looked at how many marine mammal species are there, how rare they are, and how at risk they are from human influence.

While 20 sites were highlighted worldwide, the report's authors determined that by preserving just 2.5 per cent of the ocean, they could protect the vast majority of marine mammal species.

"We're in a very important species extinction crisis," researcher Gerardo Ceballos said in a telephone interview.

Like all the hot spots, eastern Canada is at a medium to high level of dangerous human impact, Ceballos said. He and Sandra Pompa Mansilla co-authored the study from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

They worked on the study for four years with a fellow researcher at Stanford University and published the paper in the Aug. 16 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The key sites seem to congregate in upwelling oceanic areas, where cold currents meet warm ones. These often produce areas of high primary production, which are good feeding grounds for marine mammals.

Southern New Brunswick, which is known for its whale-watching industry, serves as the summer home of the right whale, an endangered species that was pinpointed as one of the animals of particular concern by the scientists. Other species frequenting the Fundy area are the minke whale, the humpback whale, the finback whale and white-beaked Dolphins, among other species.

Although they are known to visit, it's considered rare to see a blue whale, sperm whale, killer whale or beluga whale.

Marine mammals provide some of the best-known cases of population and species extinction through overexploitation, the study states.

For the North Atlantic, the study lists the whale-watching industry, toxic waste dumping and vessel collisions with whales as the most dangerous threats to the rich marine population in the North Atlantic.

The researchers are the first to combine various habitat maps of marine mammals around the world into an all-inclusive map showing the hot spots, Mansilla said from her university office in Mexico.

But Ceballos said their study "is a guideline for some of the most important places ... but it doesn't mean that the rest of the areas shouldn't be taken into account."

The other nine sites are located off the coasts of Baja California in Mexico, Peru, Argentina, northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Of the 129 species of marine mammals on Earth, including seals, dolphins and polar bears, approximately 25 per cent are facing extinction, the study said, ranging from being considered vulnerable to critically endangered."

Monday, September 05, 2011

{Press} Endangered right whales produce louder calls in noisier environments

Science 2.0 | Caitlin Kight | September 4, 2011

Anthropogenic noise has been studied not only in terrestrial habitats, but also in aquatic environments, where it can disrupt communication of a number of organisms, including fish, crustaceans, dolphins, and whales. A recent study by collaborators at Penn State University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Duke University has demonstrated, for the first time, that individual North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) adjust the amplitude of their calls in response to ambient noise levels.

These endangered whales live in the coastal waters of the eastern US and communicate using low-frequency (50-400 Hz) sounds that can be masked by noise from the high levels of commercial, naval, and recreational ship traffic found throughout their habitats. Impaired vocal communication can impact mating and feeding behaviors, increase stress levels, and possibly decrease reproductive success, all of which would be particularly problematic in a species whose population numbers are already dangerously low.

Researchers cornered whales after they swam into the Bay of Fundy, where they ultimately fitted 7 females and 7 males with suction cup tags containing acoustic recording devices. These yielded a total of 107 calls that could be analyzed. The data indicated that whales spent time in waters with ambient noise levels ranging from 92-143 dB (don't be surprised if that seems excessive--aquatic noise levels are generally higher than terrestrial ones because they are calculated in a way that takes into account differences in sound propagation in water versus air). The habitats were dominated by noise below 400 Hz--in other words, the very same frequency bandwidth used by calling whales.

For all types of calls, the whales increased the amplitudes of their vocalizations as ambient noise levels increased. Thus, not only were they aware of differences in environmental conditions, but they also actively adjusted in order to compensate. This pattern was observed in both sexes and across all age groups. Interestingly, and contrary to some previous research, the whales did not change the frequency characteristics of their vocalizations. The authors suggest that this is because whales use amplitude adjustments as a short-term, immediate response to noise, but, over time, gradually learn to manipulate frequency characteristics, as well.

For now, it appears that these vocal manipulations are sufficient to maintain the whales' signal-to-noise ratios in human-disturbed environments. However, it is unknown whether the whales use even louder habitats where, perhaps, they are no longer able to combat the noise. Calling at such a high amplitude may be energetically demanding, or may make the whales more obvious when they would rather remain hidden; the researchers hope to examine these fitness implications in future research."

{Press} North Atlantic Right Whales Need To Watch Where They Eat

Science 2.0 | Caitlin Kight | September 4, 2011

"Each spring, North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) migrate through the waters of the Cape Cod Bay (CCB), where they feed on aggregations of zooplankton near the surface of the water. Last year, almost half the world's population of this species could be found in the CCB, where these critically endangered animals are at risk of being hit by ships.

Collaborators from Pennsylvania State University, Stony Brook University, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, and the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary recently performed a study to investigate whether the whales' foraging ecology increases the likelihood that they will experience a collision with passing vessels. To do this, they utilized dive data from suction cup archival recording tags that had been attached to 13 whales. This provided a detailed record of how often the whales dived and how far they went. The researchers also sampled zooplankton, the whales' prey, in order to see how many organisms were in the water, and whether they aggregated in the same places where the whales were spending most of their time.

(The Cape Cod Bay)

Zooplankton were highly concentrated in the upper 5 m of the water in aggregations that often covered multiple square kilometers and lasted for several hours. Unsurprisingly, whales were found to spend the majority of their time between 0.5 and 2.5 m below the water's surface, indicating that they most likely were following their food. Unfortunately, whales are difficult to see at this depth, making them particularly vulnerable to collisions with vessels of a range of sizes.

(The zooplankton Calanus finmarchicus, the most common species of whale prey sampled during the study.)

Along the Massachusetts coastline, a network of real-time passive acoustic buoys is used to monitor whale activity. However, these only work when the whales vocalize, which the researchers did not observe them doing throughout the course of the study. This means that an alternative monitoring technique--such as using echosounders to detect zooplankton and predict where the whales will be--may be necessary to protect these magnificent marine mammals.


Parks, S.E., Warren, J.D., Stamieszkin, K., Mayo, C.A., and Wiley, D. 2011. Dangerous dining: surface foraging of North Atlantic right whales increases risk of vessel collisions. Biology Letters, online advance publication."