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Humpback Whale

Right Whale Migration Update: March 18, 1998

Today's Report Includes:

To: Journey North
From: Anne Smrcina

Greetings from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Migration News About Right Whale Mother-calf Pairs

Migration Route of North Atlantic Right Whales

Map courtesy of
Dr. Carol Gersmehl and Debbie Bojar
Macalester College

It seems that the northern right whale mother-calf pairs from Florida and Georgia are probably on the move. I talked to Laura Morse from the New England Aquarium's right whale research group and got the confirmation that no other right whales have been seen since Feb. 19th. We will hopefully be seeing them soon up here in Cape Cod Bay, in the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary or in the Great South Channel. Last year we had an unusually early first sighting of a mother-calf pair (March 5th) but the average arrival day is around March 25th. Researchers are eagerly awaiting these travellers.

The five mother-calf pairs spotted in the southern calving grounds have been
identified. Three of those mothers are:
Mother Background
#1315 Born in 1983, last seen in '92 with her first calf
#1233 First seen in 1974, last seen in '92 with her second calf
#1321 Also known as "Mono."

Only 5 calves were identified this season (and one additional calf, which is presumed to have been stillborn). Last year there were over 20 births recorded down in the calving grounds. Because there are only an estimated 300 whales in this endangered population, reproduction is watched carefully.

Although the numbers this year don't look too good initially, researchers are still holding out for positive numbers. A string of storms and bad weather days made it impossible to put the plane in the air for the aerial surveys. Fewer days in the air translated into fewer sightings. Also, even on the days the plane got airborne, the sea states were often quite bad for whale spotting. A sea state of 3 or more, which was often the case, results in whitecaps. Whitecaps disguise the splashes whales make when they break the surface. So, except for the whales the observers flew directly over, many of the whales were probably camouflaged by the choppy seas. Researchers are hoping to see many more mother-calf pairs in northern waters this spring and summer. Here's a Challenge Question for you:

Challenge Question #4
"If the mother-calf pairs are traveling from Cape Canaveral to Provincetown, how far are they going? Assuming a rate of 25 nautical miles a day, how long will it take them to make the trip?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions at the end of this report.)

Sightings in Cape Cod Bay
Adult and juvenile whales (animals whose winter destinations are not known) are still being found in numbers up in Cape Cod Bay. Here too, bad weather has prevented many boat and aerial surveys. Whales seem to be feeding on abundant zooplankton in the waters here. On March 13th three whales were seen, two at the southern edge of Stellwagen Bank and one in the Bay:

42 09N, 70 17W
41 51N, 70 16W

Discussion of Challenge Questions #2 & #3
Challenge Question #2 asked, "How deep is the water where right whales were spotted at 41 53N, 70 22W?"

[Editor's Apology: These numbers were mistakenly converted to decimal degrees in our last report, but should have been left as degrees and minutes as shown above.] The point 41 53N, 70 22W is within Cape Cod Bay and has a depth of about 32 meters (35.2 yards or 105.6 feet).

Challenge Question #3
As mentioned in my last report, two SOUTBOUND right whales were observed by a tugboat in the Ambrose/Barnegat Traffic Lanes on Feb. 28th. Why might the right whales be heading south when most scientists believe this is the time for the whales' northward migration?

Right whales are mammals, and mammals don't always do what we assume they are going to do. Unlike monarch butterflies and other species that seem to be "programmed" on an unswerving course northward, whales often get side-tracked. One whale swam up the Delaware River towards Philadelphia one year. Another mother-calf pair made their northward migration and then took a side trip back south towards the Chesapeake Bay area. Metompkin, whose travels were recorded by a WhaleNet satellite tag two years ago (see the WhaleNet home page at appears to have travelled out into the mid-Atlantic Ocean.

We are only just beginning to understand these whales, and often in trying to answer one question we raise many more. There is much to learn -- perhaps some of you may provide the answers in the future.

Until my next report, this is Anne Smrcina, education coordinator of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary signing off.

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 4
3. In the body of the message, give your answer to this question:

Challenge Question #4
"If the mother-calf pairs are traveling from Cape Canaveral to Provincetown, how far are they going? Assuming a rate of 25 nautical miles a day, how long will it take them to make the trip?"

The Next Right Whale Update will Be Posted on April 1, 1998.