Protect Right Whales home page
Protect Right Whales home page
facts resources action about

Right Whale Sightings Continue South of Nantucket
January 18, 2019

Update - 4/1/19: The voluntary speed restriction zone has been extended to April 13th after continued sightings of North Atlantic right whales in the area including a mother/calf pair that were sighted in the area on March 28th. A total of 19 right whales were sighted that day and 8 were sighted on March 27th. The speed restrictions are still voluntary which is disappointing as this area is crucial to these whales and must be better protected with a mandatory and permanent speed restriction.

Update - 3/16/19: The voluntary speed restriction zone south of Nantucket, Massachusetts has been extended to March 28th in light of a sighting of 16 North Atlantic right whales in the area on Wednesday, March 13th. The speed restrictions must be made mandatory because many ships are going against the voluntary speed guidelines without any consequences. They must also be made permanent and expanded beyond their current range.

Update - 3/6/19: The voluntary speed restrictions have been extended until March 16th due to a sighting of 10 North Atlantic right whales in the area on March 1st. Three of the whales were seen in one of the New York shipping lanes which is very concerning as it raises the risk of ship strikes. We noted that North Atlantic right whales were seen closer to the shipping lanes than they had been since November of 2018 and now they've been actually seen in them. We are once again renewing our call for the speed restrictions to be extended further south, made permanent and made mandatory. The sightings of right whales south of Nantucket have been continuous since November of last year and at times have included nearly 25% of the population so protections for them in this area must be expanded. The latest sightings of North Atlantic right whales can be found on the Interactive North Atlantic Right Whale Sightings Map.

Update - 2/24/19: The voluntary speed restriction (Dynamic Management Area or DMA) has been extended through March 5, 2019 due to a sighting of 19 North Atlantic right whales on February 17th. 19 whales represents nearly 5% of the estimated population yet the restrictions are still voluntary. Most of the whales sighted on February 17th, along with a right whale seen on February 11th, were closer to one of the shipping lanes in that area than any of the other right whales sighted in that general area since November of 2018. The DMA covers the shipping lane closest to Nantucket where these whales were seen but the shipping lane just to the south is conspicuously absent from the speed restriction zone. We are renewing our call for the speed restriction to be made mandatory and to be made permanent while also adding that the speed restriction should at least be extended to the south so that it covers the other shipping lane.

map of current voluntary speed restriction near nantucket, massachusetts

A map of the voluntary speed restrictions in effect near Nantucket, Massachusetts through March 5, 2019.
credit: NOAA Fisheries

Update - 2/7/19: The voluntary speed restrictions southeast of Nantucket have been extended again - this time through February 19th - due to continued sightings of North Atlantic right whales. Regular sightings of large groups of North Atlantic right whales in this area, including a group of 96 on December 15, 2018 (about 1/4th of the entire population), clearly show that this area is a perfect candidate for a permanent, mandatory speed restriction (a seasonal one at the very least) instead of voluntary speed restrictions that get extended for a couple of weeks at a time.

Update - 2/4/19: The voluntary speed restrictions southeast of Nantucket have been extended through February 11th due to continued sightings of North Atlantic right whales. The New Hampshire Public Radio article says there were 20 right whales sighted on January 27th but according to the NOAA Right Whale Sighting Map there were 21 sighted that day.

Update - 1/22/19: WCAI has reported that the whales have been observed in Surface Active Groups, behavior that can include breeding. Charles 'Stormy' Mayo, senior scientist and director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies, told Living Lab Radio, "What we're hearing from that area...far south of Nantucket is that there is a lot more interaction between individuals. I think we can assume that somewhere deep in the water they've also found good feeding. That's why we usually see these aggregations as we often do in Cape Cod Bay later in the season."

two north atlantic right whales swimming south of nantucket massachusetts on november 26, 2018

Two North Atlantic right whales socialize south of Nantucket on November 26, 2018. They were among the group of 17 seen during an aerial survey that day.
credit: Leah Crowe, NOAA/NEFSC, permit #21371

Sightings of large groups of North Atlantic right whales south of the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts have continued in recent days. A group of 82 right whales was sighted on January 13th and a group of 96 were sighted on January 15th, the largest groups seen so far this winter. 82 right whales represents 20% of the entire estimated population of 410 and 96 represents 23% of the population. The feeding opportunities are most likely very good, considering the high number of right whales and the duration of their stay. There was a sighting of 17 North Atlantic right whales on November 26, 2018, 33 were seen on December 15th, 36 on the 24th, 53 on the 30th, 69 on the 31st and now 82 on January 13th and 96 on the 15th.

Every single North Atlantic right whale is precious so a group of 96 absolutely deserves the best protections yet that is not happening. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) did expand the voluntary speed restrictions in an area 26 nautical miles south of Nantucket through January 29th but as we've written over the past couple of months as we keep track of these sightings, a voluntary restriction isn't good enough. These whales are dangerously close to the Boston/New York shipping lanes and even outside of the main shipping lanes there can be many types of ships that pose a major threat to North Atlantic right whales. At the very least the speed restrictions must be made mandatory with as many ships as possible being rerouted. The oceans belong to the species that live there and they must be given deference. Our use of the oceans is a privilege that we as a species continue to badly misuse and the laws and regulations must be updated and strengthened to keep human activities in the oceans in check to protect the living beings that still remain there.

More Information:

Right Whale Sightings Off Nantucket Steadily Increasing - 1/1/2019

Speed Restrictions Implemented on East Coast - 12/18/2018 (updated 12/19 and 12/27)

NOAA Implements Voluntary Speed Restrictions Near Nantucket - 11/23/2018 (updated 12/10)

To find out more about what is happening to North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales and how we can all take actions in our everyday lives to protect them, please visit our Facts and Action sections on our website. We also post updates and pictures on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter.