The North Atlantic right whale population has been rapidly declining for the past 13 years. They are critically endangered with roughly 340 remaining. However, an arrival of a large pod including mothers and calves in Cape Cod Bay is giving scientists hope.
The estimated 70-80 whales are feeding on the abundant zooplankton in the area as they make their way north to Canada for the summer.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) captured one of the mother whales, a 41-year-old named Spindle, nursing her 10th known calf on video and shared the rare moment with the world.
“It’s a sure sign of spring–and reason for hope,” they wrote. “So far, researchers have identified 12 live calves born this season.”
Another mother, Smoke, and her calf took a detour and swam in the Cape Cod Chanel which resulted in its closure by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cape Cod Canal operations team. It remained closed until 4pm to ensure the safety of Smoke and her calf.
The largest threats right whales face are entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes.
The New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, who has been fighting to protect the whales for the past 40 years, said, “Eighty-six percent of right whales have been entangled at least once.” While some whales manage to untangle themselves, others need help from professional disentanglement teams who help remove the heavy ropes and nets that can be deadly to the whales.
One of the female whales in the pod arrived heavily entangled in fishing rope and net. On Wednesday, the Center for Coastal Studies Marine Animal Entanglement Response team located the whale and managed to remove 200 feet of rope. They posted a photo of the whale who is still entangled and shared, “The whale currently remains entangled. As part of its response, the MAER team outfitted the whale’s remaining wraps with a telemetry tracking buoy and is monitoring information received from the buoy and the weather in the hopes there can be another opportunity for further disentanglement attempts.”
In March, a smaller pod of 24 right whales was seen near Nantucket by New England Aquarium’s aerial survey team. They were thrilled to see 7% of the population doing well and were thrilled when they spotted a whale named Nimbus alive and well. They posted, “A remarkable sight on this flight: 15-year-old right whale “Nimbus” (#3812) was seen no longer entangled in fishing gear. Earlier this year, disentanglement efforts were led by Wildlife Resources Division – Georgia DNR, and they appear to be a success!”
Philip Hamilton, senior scientist at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, states, “They’re a long-lived species and a female can reproduce for at least 40 years. If we stop killing them, their population trajectory can and will reverse.”
How You Can Help
Stop this species from going extinct.
One way to help save these majestic creatures is by lowering the speed limit of vessels to a mandatory 10-knot slow zones where whales are seen. Sign the petition below to ask the Department of Commerce to strengthen safeguards for North Atlantic right whales by releasing a strong, final vessel strike rule.