Nearly half of the world’s North Atlantic right whales are now found in Cape Cod Bay

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PROVINCETOWN – Experts concerned about the health of North Atlantic right whales arriving in Cape Cod Bay are reminding boaters of government speed and distance restrictions in place to try to protect endangered mammals on their journey to the north.

Between January and last week, trending earlier than most years, the Center for Coastal Studies’ The Right Whale Ecology Program team has identified at least 171 individual whales in the bay, nearly half of the nearly extinct population of North Atlantic right whales.

Over the past two weeks, the Center’s North Atlantic Right Whale Aerial Survey Team has seen the first mothers and their calves arrive in the waters of Cape Cod Bay from their birthplace off the southeast coast of the United States. On March 25, teams sighted four pairs, according to information released by the center.

To protect them, boats should travel no more than 10 knots in designated areas, including Cape Cod waters, and boats and aircraft should stay at least 500 meters from right whales. These restrictions are due to the protection of right whales under the Federal Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Actaccording to a reminder this week from the Center for Coastal Studies.

Safety restrictions are underlined at a time when a large percentage of the estimated 336 animals remaining on Earth arrive in Cape Cod Bay, much to the delight of observers from Race Point and elsewhere on shore, as well as scientists in the air. The biggest threat to the survival of the giant species is being hit by a ship or getting tangled in a rope.

Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of the center’s right whale ecology program, said casual viewers in Provincetown have been treated to quite a spectacle in recent weeks. They “get exceptional views of an animal rarer than a gorilla or a snow leopard – one of the rarest large mammals on the face of the earth,” he said in a recent interview. telephone. “And (people) can walk, hike an hour up the beach to Race Point Lighthouse and see right whales up close. It’s quite special.

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Mayo called the local waters a “sanctuary” for new mothers and their vulnerable offspring as they make their long and dangerous migration.

“These animals arrive here after a long and perilous journey through areas not as strictly protected as Cape Cod Bay. The bay can be considered a nursery for right whale mothers nursing their young and they will likely be there for a little while,” he said in a written statement this week. “Sailors should be well aware that state regulations for all boats are 10 knots or less. They have to be alert and watch these animals, they can be very hard to spot…(and) the calves are very small.

the The Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Division has implemented a seasonal speed restriction of 10 knots from March 1 to April 30 through Cape Cod Bay for vessels under 65 feet in length. This restriction, along with one from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), can be extended if the whales remain in the area, the center noted.

Right whales sighted in Cape Cod Bay and beyond in 2022

So far this year, 15 black calves – vital to the survival of the species – have been identified in the southeastern United States Last year, one of 18 calves born was killed after being struck by a ship, and in 2020 two calves were killed from ship strikes, the center said.

The whale named Tripelago and her calf on March 15 was the first right whale to enter Cape Cod Bay this year, as spotted by the center’s air crew. This year’s offspring is Tripelago’s fifth calf, which is known to have survived two rope entanglements, according to center information.

On March 25, the CCS team counted three additional mothers – known as Slalom, Mantis and Silt – and their young in Cape Cod Bay. Slalom gave birth six times and survived six entanglements, while Silt gave birth five times and survived four entanglements, according to center information.

The arrival of large numbers of whales around Cape Cod was unusually early this year, experts say. The first right whale of the season was spotted in December in Wellfleet waters. On February 26, 99 right whales were seen feeding near the surface of the bay during a four-hour aerial survey – one of the highest numbers ever recorded at the start of the season, according to Mayo.

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Scientists are studying how climate change is affecting where right whales go and whether feeding grounds other than Cape Cod Bay are providing less of what the animals need than in the past.

The population of North Atlantic right whales increased around the world until around 2000, Mayo said, and then began to decline, raising concern around the world.

“But what is strange is that since 2010 the number of individuals visiting the bay (of Cape Cod) has increased, so we have a decreasing number in the total population and an increasing number in the segment of the population. who comes here,” Mayo said. in the telephone interview. With the increase in numbers this year, “the only way to explain this oddity is that the remaining right whales seem, for now at least, to preferentially choose Cape Cod Bay. There is no other way to explain the oddity of having fewer whales in the world, but more whales here.

Charles

From a conservation perspective, the high number of whales visiting this year is potentially worrying, he said.

“You imagine these whales have other places where they could feed, which is the main thing they do here in Cape Cod Bay. It’s a very important feeding ground,” he said. -he declares.

The high concentration of right whales coming here could mean “the food is just great here, now it’s gotten better and so more whales are coming.” But the other possibility, which I think is very real, is that the offshore areas that we don’t know about, the places they were going to maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago are not as good than before. ”

So “Maybe Cape Cod Bay isn’t really great for them. Other places may not be and we don’t know what answer it is on. It’s one of the things we’re trying to work on,” he said. “Cape Cod Bay is always a good place, but is it? Is this just where they go because they can’t fill their stomachs anywhere else? And you really hope that’s not it.

Contact Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll at kdriscoll@capecodonline.com. Follow on Twitter: @KathiSDCCT.

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