Three North Atlantic right whales feed in Rhode Island Sound this week. About 100 of the endangered marine mammals have been sighted in the area, which is the largest group ever documented in those waters.
by Mary Ann Bragg
PROVINCETOWN — Right whale surveyors have sighted nearly 100 North Atlantic right whales feeding in Rhode Island Sound, the largest group ever documented in those waters.
The area is between Martha's Vineyard and Block Island. It is a boom that corresponds to a "very quick" decrease in the last two weeks of right whales in Cape Cod Bay and east of Cape Cod, said Ruth Leeney of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies yesterday.
A federally sponsored survey team based at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole saw 98 whales, including a mother and calf, on Tuesday.
The team first noticed a smooth spot of the surface of the water known as a "flukeprint," a telltale sign of the presence of whales. The team counted 38 whales, thinking that was the entire lot. But then over the next six hours, they found another 60, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Woods Hole surveyors are part of a year-round federal program to document endangered North Atlantic right whales along the Northeast coast. There are about 300 to 400 in the North Atlantic region. The North Atlantic right whale is considered endangered under federal laws.
The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies also conducts aerial surveys of North Atlantic right whales for the federal government, but that program is limited to the bay and east of Cape Cod. It is also a seasonal aerial survey, which is currently in progress.
About two weeks ago, the center's survey team counted between 60 and 70 right whales in Cape Cod Bay, which was the peak so far of the season, Leeney said. But as of Tuesday, the count in the bay was down to 11. On Wednesday, the team counted 28 right whales east of Cape Cod.
The aerial surveys are conducted to photograph right whales for a regional database, to track the animals and also help analyze the health of individual whales, Leeney said.