Endangered Right Whale Season Winds Down in Cape Cod Bay

COURTESY OF THE CENTER FOR COASTAL STUDIES Punctuation and her calf, which died, were observed on April 28. That was believed to be the last time the calf was scene alive.

Punctuation and her calf, which died, were observed on April 28. That was believed to be the last time the calf was scene alive.

PROVINCETOWN – The 2016 North Atlantic right whale season is winding down and researchers from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown are reporting a large turnout in the area.

The center conducts multiple aerial surveys each week from December through May to provide data to local, state and federal managers of the critically endangered species which population is estimated to be around 500.

More than 25 percent of the species estimate population visited Cape Cod Bay this season, including six mothers and their newborn calves.

“It’s once again an indication that Cape Cod Bay is central to the future of the species,” said Charles “Stormy” Mayo with the Center for Coastal Studies.

The whales come to the bay during this time as there is an abundance of food.

“There have been years in the not-very-distant past where we have seen more than half of the remaining population,” Mayo said. “So year-by-year really exceptional numbers come here. We think this is one of the most critical locations for them.”

A great deal of effort is taken to try to protect the species while they are in local waters including informing the public to keep their distance from the whales, keep speeds down and report sightings.

“The Division of Marine Fisheries that we work with and NOAA are both important partners in the effort to protect Cape Cod Bay,” Mayo said.

Many of the whales are leaving the area and a newborn calf was found dead east of the Outer Cape off a Chatham Beach last week.

“It had been run over by a big ship,” Mayo said.

The calf was the offspring of right whale No. 1281, named Punctuation. The pair had been together with a nursery group that came into Cape Cod Bay for the majority of April.

An aerial survey team, which had been grounded last week due to the weather, launched Monday to try to locate the mother.

“We are hoping to find…that the mother was not struck,” Mayo said. “They are very close together and there is always a worry that both of them might get hit when any one of them is.”

Mayo called it a pretty sad situation.

A necropsy was conducted on the beach and researchers are hoping to have results soon.

Researchers believe the right whales generally head to locations on the inside of Georges Bank after leaving the Cape.

“They are down in areas which unfortunately are part of the shipping lanes of the Northeast which is always a little bit scary,” Mayo said.

Colleagues have informed Mayo that many have left Cape Cod Bay and are being spotted in the Gulf of Maine.

“We’ve had whales reported from as far north as the coast of Maine and as far south as the coast of Rhode Island and New York,” Mayo said. “They kind of spread out after they concentrate here.”

Local researchers continue to work on conservation efforts even after the whales leave the area.

“The specialists are matching the marks on the individual whales that have been photographed from the air and from the boat. They will continue to match them to a catalog,” Mayo said. “So we’ll know who was here and that, of course, gives us great insight as to the choices individual right whales make.”

A cruise launches Tuesday to study the environment of Cape Cod Bay to try to understand what conditions change that cause them to leave.

“All of that work will eventually be wrapped up and reported to federal and state agents,” Mayo said.

Mariners are still reminded that right whales may still be in the area and are encouraged to reduce speeds and stay on the lookout.  If a right whale is spotted vessels must stay at least 500 yards away.

By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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