Thursday, May 19, 2011

{Press} Right whales spotted in nearby waters

Nantucket Island Inquirer | Jason Graziadei | May 12, 2011

"Endangered North Atlantic right whales have gathered in the waters east of Nantucket and Cape Cod in record numbers this spring, but have also been spotted in Nantucket Sound, leaving researchers and others puzzled.

The sightings have prompted Coast Guard advisories urging boaters, including the Steamship Authority and Hy-Line ferries, to reduce their speed in the areas where the mammals have been spotted so as not to strike any whales near the surface.

“To have right whales in the Sound is extraordinary,” said Nantucket whale watch captain Blair Perkins. “In my whole lifetime, the only whales I’ve seen in Nantucket Sound were minke whales. These right whales may have been following a ball of bait with the tide and got swept up into the Great Round Shoal Channel, which is the deep channel the fishing boats take out to Georges Bank.”

Nearly hunted to extinction, scientists believe just under 500 North Atlantic right whales remain in the wild. The species is protected by both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Special Act, under which it is listed as “critically endangered.” The right whale population ranges from Florida north to Canada, and typically make their home in the Gulf of Maine, according to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution associate scientist Mark Baumgartner.

While sightings of right whales in Nantucket Sound is not unprecedented, he said they are out of the ordinary and was unsure what food source would bring them into the area.

“It’s not clear whether it’s rare or uncommon, but it certainly is out of the ordinary for where we expect right whales to be,” Baumgartner said. “We typically see them 20 to 60 miles east of Nantucket in May in great numbers.”

The record number of sightings off Provincetown and other areas of New England this year is probably due to their food source, plankton, being carried closer to shore, he added."

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