Research Ramps Up as Right Whales Return to Region

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)

PROVINCETOWN – Research is underway in the waters off Cape Cod as critically endangered North Atlantic right whales return to the region in large numbers.

Teams from NOAA’s Northeastern Fisheries Science Center are tracking the animals on the water and in the air via aerial and marine survey efforts.

The right whales congregate in Cape Cod Bay in the late winter and early spring every year to feed, and this year researchers have seen an increase in the number of whales off the shore of the Cape.

“Historically we see the largest number of right whales in April, but this year we’ve already seen 50-60 in March,” said NOAA researcher Lisa Conger.

“We’ve extended our field season because the whales have shifted their habitat use, arriving in Cape Cod Bay in substantial numbers and earlier,” Conger added. “They have largely abandoned the Bay of Fundy feeding grounds in the late summer, now showing up in larger numbers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence by late June and early July.”

The status of the species is bleak, particularly in the wake of at least 17 of the animals being found dead in 2017. Researchers estimate there are about 450 right whales left in the world.

The animals are expected to head north by the end of May.

NOAA teams will be spotting the animals from the air until then and will be taking passive acoustic recordings underwater.

Researchers will also be working from a 24-foot boat in Cape Cod Bay, taking photos of individual whales as part of identification efforts.

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