PROVINCETOWN, Mass. — There were no known births in the 2017-2018 calving season for the North Atlantic right whale, so each new calf spotted with its mother so far in 2019 has been greeted with extra enthusiasm.
On Thursday, April 11 the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) right whale aerial survey team spotted two right whale mother/calf pairs in Cape Cod Bay, bringing the number of calves observed off Cape Cod this season to three. In all, seven calves have been seen swimming off the coast.
The mothers have been identified as EgNo 4180 and EgNo 3317.
Five days earlier, on April 7 the aerial survey team spotted its first right whale calf of the year in Cape Cod Bay. The sighting heralded the arrival of the 2019 calves to their feeding grounds here in the northeast.
That calf, which was first sighted by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on January 17 in the calving grounds of the southeastern U.S., is the third of seven known mother/calf pairs of the season. Its mother is right whale 1204, a whale of at least 38 years of age that was first seen in 1982. This is 1204’s ninth known calf; her first was documented in 1988, the most recent in 2013. This is only the second of her nine calves to have been documented with her in Cape Cod Bay.
On April 11, EgNo 4180 and her calf were sighted in the southern portion of the bay. EgNo 4180 was first seen by CCS in 2010, making her at least nine years old, and she has been seen every year since then with the exception of 2015. The last time she was seen was in late April 2018, although researchers were unaware that she was pregnant. At some point between then and the summer of 2018 she was seen with new entanglement wounds on her peduncle and back.
EgNo 4810 was first seen with her calf by a Florida park ranger from shore in February. Prior to this sighting her sex was unknown, so now researches have confirmation that she is female.
EgNo 3317 was born in late 2002. She was seen with her mother, EgNo 1817 (Silt) in Cape Cod Bay when she was a calf in 2003. After that, observers didn’t see her in the bay again until 2016, which happens to be the last time she had a calf. EgNo 3117’s first calf, EgNo 3917, was born in 2009, and has been observed here nearly annually since 2011.
In 2017, CCS researchers documented EgNo 3317 outside of Cape Cod Bay, and last year (when she was pregnant) she was seen inside the bay between February and March. She was the second mom documented this season, and was first documented with her calf from a shore sighting in January.
It is illegal to approach a North Atlantic right within 500 yards (1500 feet) without a Federal Research Permit. However, the right whales often feed very close to shore, offering whale watchers on land unbeatable views of one of the rarest of the marine mammals.
CCS right whale research and response operations are conducted in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries and NOAA under federal permits issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Support also comes from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust and contributions from private foundations and CCS members.