CCS: Whale calves particularly vulnerable to ship strikes

Right whales remain in Cape Cod Bay, feasting on plankton
Right whale #1281 (named Punctuation) and her 2016 calf sub-surface feeding in Cape Cod Bay. CCS image taken under NOAA permit #14603-1.

The Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown (CCS) is again warning boaters about the presence of endangered North Atlantic right whales in the waters of Cape Cod Bay. In a release, CCS said aerial and boat survey crews continue to confirm the presence of the whales. The whales come to the bay each winter/spring to feast on zooplankton. Each season zooplankton is abundant, but this year, CCS researchers and biologists from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) have documented "increasingly high concentrations". 

While several whales remain in a feeding aggregation, it is estimated roughly half of the world's population (526) of North Atlantic right whales already passed through the bay.

CCS has confirmed that five of the remaining whales are mothers with nursing newborn calves in tow, according to the release. The calves are especially susceptible to ship strikes as they are less agile than the adults. The mothers and calves among the feeding aggreation were recently seen in the southwestern quadrant of Cape Cod Bay, the release said.

When feeding, the whales are between 3 and 9 feet below the surface. They are shallow enough to be struck by a vessel, but deep enough not to be seen. DMF urges mariners in Cape Cod Bay to reduce speeds to less than 10 knots. Mariners are also encouraged to post lookouts to avoid collisions. 

As with anytime of year, boaters are required to maintain a minimum distance of 500 yards from right whales. This regulation is strictly enforced by the US Coast Guard and Massachusetts Environmental Police. Boaters who find themselves within that distance must slowly and cautiously exit the area, the DMF release said.

Monitor right whale sighting on the NOAA Fisheries Service interactive map here.  


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