Friday, December 16, 2011

{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."

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