Protected Species Specialist, Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF)
Each winter and spring, the endangered North Atlantic right whale returns to the productive waters of Cape Cod Bay to feed and socialize. During this time, biologists like me from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and a group of collaborators monitor the population and protect them from human impacts such as entanglement in fishing gear and vessel collision. One way we do this is by listening for the whales.
Last week, two acoustic monitoring buoys in Cape Cod Bay were deployed to capture right whale vocalizations. The buoys shed light on right whale acoustic behavior and allow us to monitor the presence and location of the whales 24/7. Click here to listen to an audio clip of a right whale sound but clicking on "sounds" then "see the sounds" on the top right side of the page.
DMF partners with the Center for Coastal Studies, Cornell University, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on the Cape Cod Bay Right Whale Surveillance Program. We use a combination of aerial surveillance, habitat sampling, and acoustic monitoring to study and protect the whales. Since aerial surveillance is limited by daylight and weather, the acoustic buoys help fill gaps in monitoring by operating continuously and providing data independent of weather or time of day. Click here to find out where in Cape Cod Bay the buoys have detected whales.
In 2008, 187 individual right whales were spotted in Cape Cod Bay over the course of the season – that’s 49 percent of the known population! Sightings of right whales in Cape Cod Bay typically begin in December and slowly ramp with to a peak of sightings in March and April.
Often the whales can be seen from shore. Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown and Sandy Neck Beach in Barnstable are great places to spot right whales (and other large whales) as they skim feed on the water’s surface like lawnmowers in mid-to late April. Be aware there is a law that prohibits approaching a right whale within 500 yards!
I’ll keep you posted about the whales’ whereabouts and the best places to spot them from shore.