Local researchers are studying why North Atlantic right whales migrate from our region to Canada’s more northern waters.
Some think the rapidly warming waters of the Gulf of Maine might be playing a role, but they just don’t know how.
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered animals on the planet.
Researchers at the New England Aquarium are studying these majestic creatures and they think some of the answers may be in their poop.
Dr. Elizabeth Burgess is a research scientist at the aquarium who studies hormonal changes in right whales. Unfortunately, the easiest way to collect hormones is through their droppings.
“So nutritional stress is a big concern for this species, and so is reproductive viability. So all these things that we can, we use hormones to better understand what’s going on,” Burgess said.
For decades, right whales came to feed each summer from Cape Cod Bay to Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy.
Over the past 10 years, scientists studying whales have discovered that they have moved north from Nova Scotia into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, one of the busiest shipping corridors in North America. .
Dr Dan Pendleton, a research scientist who studies the migration of right whales, said it surprised many.
“Seventeen whales died in the Gulf of St. Lawrence a few years ago because they showed up unexpectedly in the middle of a fishing season. And they were hit by ships and entangled in fishing gear,” he said.
Sarah Rieter is director of ocean policy at the New England Aquarium and said one of the main areas of research is rising temperatures in the Gulf of Maine.
“One of the things we’re seeing with the North Atlantic right whale is that because of the warming in the Gulf of Maine, they’re moving. And we don’t know exactly why they’re moving in these conditions. to track their food source or because of the temperature,” Reiter said.
The Gulf of Maine, stretching from Cape Cod Bay to Nova Scotia, is one of the fastest warming ocean water bodies on earth.
Last year, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute said it was the highest average temperature on record at 54 degrees Fahrenheit, more than four degrees above normal.
Burgess said another way to collect hormones is through the whale’s teeth, or baleen.
“So the only way to get baleen is from a dead whale,” she said, “but particularly in death right whales have a story to tell.”
Burgess hopes this story will help decipher how climate change is affecting right whales and save them from extinction.