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Large Numbers of North Atlantic Right Whales Sighted in Cape Cod Bay
April 15, 2019

three north atlantic right whales, #1719, #3680, known as seadragon, and #2750, known as haley, feed together in cape cod bay on april 7, 2019

Three North Atlantic right whales - #1719, left, Seadragon (#3680), bottom, and Haley (#2750), top right, feed together in Cape Cod Bay on April 7, 2019. All three have scars at the base of their flukes from previous entanglements in fishing ropes.
credit: Center for Coastal Studies, NOAA permit #19315-1

Large numbers of North Atlantic right whales have been sighted in Cape Cod Bay in recent weeks with 219 individual whales - over half of the population of only about 415 - sighted in the past four months. The Center for Coastal Studies reports that the highest number sighted in one day was 158 - more than 1/3 of the population. They also report that other cetacean species are arriving in the bay including humpback, fin, sei and minke whales. Sei whales, like North Atlantic right whales, are classified as Endangered and fin whales are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, further making the protection of Cape Cod Bay a top priority as the protections put in place to help North Atlantic right whales will help all other species of whales as well.

Protective measures in Cape Cod Bay are especially important as two more calves were sighted with their mothers in the bay. #4180 and #3317 were sighted with their calves in the bay on April 11th and we reported last week that #1204 was seen in the bay with her new calf on April 7th. All three were seen earlier this year in the southeastern US with their calves and successfully made the long and dangerous journey north through shipping lanes where ships constantly violate the voluntary speed restrictions or go through areas that have no restrictions at all. They also have to avoid hundreds of thousands of fishing ropes that create a minefield of entanglement hazards and an increasing amount of marine debris.

north atlantic right whale #1817, known as Silt, feeds in Cape Cod Bay on April 7, 2019

North Atlantic right whale Silt (#1817) feeds in Cape Cod Bay on April 7th, 2019. Silt gave birth in 2002 to #3317 who was just sighted in the bay with her new calf on April 11th. Silt had taken #3317 to Cape Cod Bay when she was a calf in 2003 and now #3317 is doing the same with her calf, putting three generations in Cape Cod Bay at the same time. Scars from an entanglement in fishing rope can be seen at the base of Silt's flukes.
credit: Center for Coastal Studies, NOAA permit #19315-1

The population was estimated to be 411 in 2017 and with 3 known deaths in 2018 (and no births that year) and 7 calves born this year, the population is estimated to be no more than 415 - not including any whales that researchers believe have died since 2017 after not seeing them for a significant amount of time. It's also believed that as few as 1 in 3 deaths are actually seen. 83% of North Atlantic right whales have been entangled in rope at least once in their lives and entanglements have been the cause of 85% of deaths since 2010.

Cape Cod Bay currently has a lobster trap ban but it's only seasonal as it ends on April 30th. There is also a 10 knot speed restriction in place for all vessels in Cape Cod Bay (a federal restriction on vessels over 65 feet and a state restriction on vessels under 65 feet) but these restrictions will end on April 30th as well unless they get extended. Thankfully it is currently safer than many areas throughout their range as similar protections do not even exist in many other areas they are seen in but even with these protections these whales still face threats from ship traffic and marine debris in Cape Cod Bay during this time. Protective measures must be expanded and made permanent throughout their range to to make sure they're truly safe.

It is also illegal to approach a North Atlantic right whale within 500 yards (1,500 feet) without a federal research permit. This includes boaters, kayakers, paddle-boarders, swimmers, light aircraft and drone pilots. However, as the Center for Coastal Studies states, "the right whales often feed very close to shore, offering whale watchers on land unbeatable views" of North Atlantic right whales.

More Information:

First North Atlantic Right Whale Calf Sighting of 2019 in Cape Cod Bay - 4/10/2019

Dozens of North Atlantic Right Whales Sighted in Cape Cod Bay - 3/19/2019

Mandatory Speed Limits in Effect for Cape Cod Bay - 1/2/2019

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.