Right Whale Migration Update: February 17, 1999
Today's Report Includes:
The Third's a Charm--But More Are Needed
Ahoy there Journey North students. This is Anne Smrcina, from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Today's Right Whale report comes with more pessimistic news. Sightings in the southern calving grounds have been very sparse. Researchers report that overflights may now be focusing on dolphins and turtles due to an absence of right whales. A bit of good news was relayed -- a third mother and calf pair was spotted on Sunday, Feb. 7th. However, three is a very small number of births for such a critically endangered species (only about 300 surviving in the North Atlantic).
Other News From the Right Whale Calving Grounds
The New England Aquarium Right Whale Research Group, which monitors right whales in the Georgia/Florida calving grounds sends out periodic reports, which can be found on the excellent WWW home page "WhaleNet." (Or directly to right whale reports.)
Chris Slay of the NE Aquarium notes in his 1/29-2/11 report:
"The two weeks covered by this update would, in any other winter, include right whale sightings information. But this year, early February reads like mid-March. Nearshore water temps are pushing 20 degrees Celsius and climbing. The gannets are leaving; basking sharks never showed; ubiquitous pods of bottlenose dolphins prowl like boisterous streetgangs; Spanish mackerel shred schools of bait fish; an armada of leatherbacks passed through, heading north; loggerheads are scattered like shelled corn across a dark blue bedspread; cownose rays lay like close-fitted tiles across acres of ocean; molas, lying on their side, watch us fly by. It doesn't feel like midwinter."
I mentioned in my last report that researchers had tagged a mother-calf pair in the calving grounds. This tag, a radiotag, allows scientists to follow the movements of the whale -- from a boat the researchers must be within two miles of the whale, from the air the researchers can be some 20 (sometimes 30) nautical miles away from the transmitter.
Discussion of Challenge Question # 1
Last week's Challenge Question # 1 was about this research -- I asked "Why would scientists want to know about the LOCAL movements of right whales?" We know that scientists are interested in the long range migrations -- where the whales go to calve, breed and feed. But local movements in each of these grounds is important too. Chris Slay and the other members of the Early Warning System group answered the question for me:
"Attaching a thumb-sized radio transmitter to a mom will allow us to track her for several days, maybe weeks, during her stay in the calving ground. We'd like to know more about the behavior of these animals, especially what traits make them so vulnerable to ships. For example:
This information will help policy makers develop management strategies to better protect the whales and their
Here are this week's first Challenge Questions for you:
Following the Trail of Tagged Whales
The mother-calf pair that had been tagged gave results for a couple of weeks. These results, plus lots of great information about this tagging project can be found at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration web site.
For a while the whales seemed to be hanging out around the Jacksonville, FL area. On 1/29 their position was 30.03 N, -80.98 W, but a week later they were at 31.67 N, -80.75 W.
Meanwhile, scientists from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass. and the National Marine Fisheries Service are reporting varying numbers of whales in Cape Cod Bay and in waters around Cape Cod. On Feb. 9th three whales were spotted at approximately 41.90 N, -70.27W. On Feb. 6th a whale was spotted at 40.88N, -70.65W near Nantucket.
Discussion of Challenge Question # 2
Unlike the humpback whales which have their calving and breeding grounds in the same area (the Caribbean), the
right whales have different breeding and calving grounds -- they use the waters in the Bay of Fundy and the Scotian
shelf as their breeding grounds (in the late summer).
How to Respond to Today's Right Whale Challenge Questions:
Please answer ONLY ONE question in each e-mail message!:
1. Address an E-mail message to: email@example.com
2. IMPORTANT: In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #3 (or Challenge Question #4 or #5).
3. In the body of the EACH message, give your answer to ONE question above.
The Next Right Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on March 3, 1999.
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