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Erin Burke

Erin Burke

Protected Species Specialist, Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF)

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Right WhaleThe peak season for right whales in Cape Cod bay is here!

Last Friday, the aerial survey team saw 44 right whales in eastern and southern Cape Cod Bay. The whales are feeding on their favorite plankton species, calanus finmarchicus, which appears to be present throughout the area.

Right whales were seen high skim feeding at the water’s surface. This behavior is common in Cape Cod Bay but rare in other known habitats and is often seen in the spring on calm days when copepods (a small crustacean-like organism the size of a tip of a ballpoint pen that feeds on plankton) are in the surface layer. The whale’s upper jaw is elevated above the water and the lower jaw just below. Late in the day, copepods aggregate at the surface, a phenomenon that triggers this unique and fascinating feeding behavior.

This is the time of year that whales can be seen from shore. DMF received reports from shore-based whale watchers on the Sandwich and Barnstable north-facing beaches on April 2 and April 5 that feeding whales were visible from shore. Take your binoculars and check it out! With any luck they will remain in the bay and as the season wears on, sightings will likely be possible from Provincetown beaches as well.

All boaters are reminded that federal and state law prohibits boats from coming within 500 yards of right whales. This rule is enforced by the state and federal authorities and bears substantial penalties for violations.

The photo was shot in Cape Cod Bay on April 18, 2009 The under National Marine Fisheries Service permit 633-1763, issued under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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