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Bill Hinkley

Bill Hinkley

Program Director, Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET)

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WhaleplateI am occasionally asked if buying a right whale license plate really helps whales. The answer is: yes! The Massachusetts Environmental Trust has made many grants from proceeds of the plate to support whales and whale habitat and a grant that begins this July is especially important.

This summer, MET is supporting the Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and other partners as they provide critical services and research to protect endangered whales. The grant will fund the following efforts.

Operating the large whale rescue team that disentangles whales from fishing gear or other marine debris. This highly trained team, which disentangled a right whale in April in Cape Cod Bay, conducts the dangerous work of cutting entanglements by hand from animals that weigh up to 70 tons. Entanglements are a life-threatening situation for whales as lines can interfere with swimming, feeding, and cause infections.

Flying aerial surveillance missions to find whales in Massachusetts waters and report their presence to resource managers and shipping interests. Collisions with ships are a leading cause of mortality. One of this year’s flights identified a record 124 North Atlantic right whales on one day in and around Cape Cod Bay. The waters of Cape Cod Bay and the Great South Channel are one of the most important areas for this species. These flights allow researchers to identify individuals, find this year’s calves and mothers, and help assess the current population. There are an estimated 475 North Atlantic right whales and more than half were spotted in Massachusetts waters at some time during this spring. (DMF’s Erin Burke blogged about this earlier this month. LINK TO BLOG POST)

Conducting vessel-based studies. Understanding the aggregations of the right whale populations in Cape Cod Bay begins with understanding their food. The geography and conditions of these waters are ideal for developing dense populations of copepods – a right whale’s favorite food. Massachusetts scientists sample the waters of the bay to better understand how our waters sustain some of the largest and rarest animals on earth. When whales are in the area, our partners also utilize vessels to observe, identify, and count whales. See Erin’s post earlier this year on this work. http://environment.blog.state.ma.us/blog/2011/03/the-whales-are-back-in-town.html

So, yes – buying a whale tail license plate really does help whales. The plates are supporting the scientists and rescuers who are on the front lines of the long fight to save this iconic species.

SAVE THE DATE:

Our partners at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies are holding their first annual Whale Week from July 25 to 30 in Provincetown. There will be a whole week of events and activities to celebrate all of the whales that visit Massachusetts waters.

Whale Week events                                                                                     http://www.coastalstudies.org/what-we-do/education-programs/marine-education/specialevents5.htm

To Learn More:                                                                                                                          Division of Marine Fisheries right whale program http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dmf/programsandprojects/ritwhale.htm#right

Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies                                                     http://www.coastalstudies.org/

New England Aquarium right whale research http://www.neaq.org/conservation_and_research/projects/endangered_species_habitats/right_whale_research/index.php

Right whale plates at the Registry of Motor Vehicles                          www.mass.gov/rmv/express/whale.htm

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