Three highlights from the annual Cape Cod right whale stopover:
- Early arrival: Cape Cod Bay is an important mid-winter and early spring feeding ground for North Atlantic right whales. Historically, they show up around February or March and stay until May. This year, there were right whales in the Bay at Thanksgiving. A few stragglers wouldn’t be unheard of, but the number of early arrivals this year was remarkable.
- Wart and her calf: Despite her unflattering name, Wart’s story is movie-worthy. For reasons not fully understood, North Atlantic right whales have suffered from low reproductive rates (not a good strategy for rebuilding a population hunted to the brink of extinction). But not Wart. For years, she produced calves at regular, three-year intervals. Then, in 2008, she got tangled in fishing gear. She dragged it around for three yearsbefore being freed, only to disappear. No one had seen her for two years until this January, when she showed up in Cape Cod Bay with a new calf – a cause for celebration, but also concern because a baby so young had never been seen this far north. And then, they disappeared again (maybe they headed south?). The story has a happy ending, though. Wart and her calf were sighted again May 1st.
- The end of right whale surveys? Researchers at Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies have been keeping tabs on right whales in Cape Cod Bay for going on three decades – conducting boat-based and aerial surveys, learning their behaviors, and examining their diet. The program has yelded invaluable insights. Unfortunately, due to government budget cuts, the future of the program is in jeopardy.