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

Dozens of North Atlantic Right Whales Sighted in Cape Cod Bay
March 19, 2019

north atlantic right whale #2910 swims with ruffian (#3530) in cape cod bay on december 19th, 2018

North Atlantic right whale #2910, top, swims with Ruffian (#3530), bottom, in Cape Cod Bay on December 19, 2018. #2910 is a male of unknown age who was first seen in 1999 and has significant scarring from at least one previous entanglement in fishing rope. Ruffian has been through two bad entanglements, he was freed from his most recent entanglement on January 6, 2017 and appears to be healing well. Ruffian was also re-sighted in the bay in early March.
credit: Center for Coastal Studies, permit #19315-1

Aerial surveys conducted by the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) have recently found large numbers of North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod Bay over the past few weeks. The bay is one of the most important areas for these whales so it's wonderful to see them return there once again in large numbers. The survey team documented 54 right whales on March 9th and many more were seen in the previous days as well - including some very well-known whales. As of March 13th, at least 118 individuals have been sighted in Cape Cod Bay this season - over 25% of the estimated population.

Ruffian (#3530), a 15 year old male who has the most extensive scarring of any North Atlantic right whale from two nasty entanglements in fishing rope, was re-sighted in the bay in early March after recently being seen there in December. Ruffian was seen in January of 2008 with terrible wounds from an entanglement and although he had somehow managed to shed the rope on his own, researchers didn't know if he would survive but he managed to pull through and his resilience has become a huge inspiration to us. He was then seen with another entanglement on January 5, 2017 off the coast of Georgia and was freed the next day by a trained rescue team. It turns out he had been forced to drag a 135 pound snow crab trap and 450 feet of rope - all the way from Canada. This entanglement caused even more injuries, the rope cut into his back again and into his flukes but once again, he pulled through. He has made two trips back and forth to the Gulf of St Lawrence since then and was sighted in Cape Cod Bay in April of 2018. His wounds have been healing and the survey team reported that his body condition was good when he was seen in December (no pictures from his March sighting were posted but no change in his condition was reported). It does us well to see Ruffian in Cape Cod Bay alive and well as he swims and feeds with his fellow right whales.

north atlantic right whale nantucket (#1971) swims in cape cod bay on march 1st 2019

Nantucket (#1971) swims in Cape Cod Bay on March 1, 2019. He is recovering from a particularly bad entanglement in fishing rope that was first documented in 2017. Nantucket was also seen south of the island of Nantucket - the island he was named after in 1997 - in aerial surveys in November of 2018 so it's quite possible he's been in the New England area for the entire winter as he recovers from his entanglement.
credit: Center for Coastal Studies, permit #19315-1

We were also very happy to hear that Nantucket (#1971) was sighted in the bay on March 1st. He's recovering from a particularly bad entanglement in fishing rope that left him with severe injuries that were first documented in 2017 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It's not known if he became entangled there but 2017 was the year that two right whales were killed from entanglements traced to that area and at least another four were entangled in snow crab gear from that region. His most recent sighting before he was seen on March 1st in Cape Cod Bay was southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts on November 26, 2018 - one of 17 right whales sighted in the area that day during aerial surveys that were conducted by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC).

Sighting records show that Nantucket was born in 1989 to Crimp (#1171), unfortunately she has not been seen since 1992 and is now presumed to be dead. In 1997, when Nantucket was just eight years old, he was freed from an entanglement by a team from the Center for Coastal Studies during a intense rescue that lasted nearly four hours. As they were trying to slow him down and cut the rope off him he kept swimming towards Nantucket and kept going in the same direction after they cut the rope off which is why he was named after the island. The incredible details of his rescue are talked about in David Laist's book 'North Atlantic Right Whales: From Hunted Leviathan to Conservation Icon'. The section on Nantucket's 1997 rescue can be found here and more information about the book, including purchase information, can be found in our Books section. Nantucket joins the 59% of North Atlantic right whales that have been entangled in fishing rope at least twice in their lives. We are glad to see he's recovering and hope to continue seeing him in Cape Cod Bay but we simply cannot keep putting these whales through these entanglements.

north atlantic right whale #3845, known as mogul, swims in cape cod bay on march 1st 2019

Mogul (#3845) swims in Cape Cod Bay on March 1, 2019
credit: Center for Coastal Studies, permit #19315-1

Mogul (#3845) was also seen in Cape Cod Bay on March 1st, his first sighting since he was seen off the coast of Iceland over the summer, a rare place for North Atlantic right whales to be sighted. We're very glad to see he made the long journey back safely.

Calvin (#2223) swims in Cape Cod Bay on March 9, 2019
credit: Center for Coastal Studies, permit #19315-1

We were also excited to hear that Calvin (#2223) was seen in Cape Cod Bay on March 9th. Like many North Atlantic right whales, the history of Calvin contains both tragedy and resilience. She was born in 1992 to Delilah (#1123) but Deliliah died after being struck by a ship in the Bay of Fundy when Calvin was only about 8 months old. Researchers weren't sure if Calvin would survive after losing her mother at such a young age but thankfully she was seen again the next year. Researchers believe it's possible that she's been entangled in fishing rope up to six times throughout her life but despite it all she has been able to survive and has given birth to at least three calves so far.

We posted an incredible picture of Calvin's 2015 calf, #4523, to our tumblr page back in November of 2018 that was taken during the summer of 2018 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Calvin's story, along with a picture of her and #4523 as a calf, is featured in our Ship Strikes section as an example of the suffering that these whales go through but also of the resilience that they have to survive, which is something they can do if we just give them a chance.

The field notes from these sightings, along with more pictures, are posted on the Center for Coastal Studies website: Field Notes 2019 | Center for Coastal Studies. On February 20th, they reported a lot of vessel traffic and although there is currently a mandatory speed restriction of 10 knots in Cape Cod Bay for all ships over 65 feet, any vessel traffic is still concerning in such an important area for these whales.

More Information:

Mandatory Speed Limits in Effect for Cape Cod Bay - 1/2/19

Speed Restrictions Implemented on East Coast - 12/18/18

North Atlantic Right Whales Return to Cape Cod Bay - 12/14/18

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.