Researchers fear that the North Atlantic right whale may be headed toward extinction, with fewer than 100 breeding females left in a population numbering less than 450. The Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, in response to this crisis, has launched a new program called the Right Whale Emergency Initiative.
The program seeks to locate and monitor the animals outside of the habitat of Cape Cod Bay.
Each year, beginning in January, right whales return in large numbers to Cape Cod Bay to feed. This past week researchers identified between 50 and 60 whales in the bay—the earliest on record that this many right whales have been sighted here.
While in the bay, the whales are relatively well protected, according to Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, a senior scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies.
“The Initiative is aimed at looking beyond Cape Cod Bay, to areas in Massachusetts Bay and east of Cape Cod, in an effort to identify locations that are not well studied, or well regulated,” said Mayo.
“The question is, where are they coming from?" Mayo said. "And can we help state and federal agencies to better manage the animals by identifying locations where the animals are coming through in order to get into the bay?”
But the Emergency Initiative is not just an information gathering effort.
“The most important part is getting that information to agencies that could look at issues like ship speeds and potentially pollution,” said Mayo.
Understanding whale locations offshore may help agencies make better management decisions. Mayo points to recent federal plans to open New England waters to oil and gas exploration as being particularly concerning.
The Emergency Initiative may begin its work as early as October or November, hoping to locate the whales’ critical habitats.
You can hear Steve Junker’s interview with Stormy Mayo in the audio above.