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FINAL Right Whale Migration Update: May 26, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Special Thanks To Anne Smrcina!
We want to extend a very special thanks to whale expert extraordinaire Anne Smrcina. Each season--as dependable as whale migration itself--Anne's news reports simply land in our laps. For the past 6 spring seasons, she and her network of whale experts up and down the Atlantic coast have voluntarily shared their expertise, research, and knowledge about whales with us all. As one inspired student was overheard saying, "I want to go to see the ocean!" Thanks, Anne, for bringing the incredible story of whale migration to so many of us who have never had the chance to see a whale...yet.

Anne's Final Notes of the Season

Greetings from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Many apologies for not getting back to you sooner. We've been very busy here at the Sanctuary with numerous projects that have taken all our staff time. This is my last report for this year. I'd like to thank all of you for your attention and interest in the right whale -- the most endangered of the great whales, and a most fascinating creature.

Precious Cargo in the Shipping Lanes
Sighting reports over the past month have shown that the right whales have left the Cape Cod Bay/Stellwagen Bank critical habitat and have moved into the Great South Channel critical habitat. Airplane surveys have been reporting large numbers of whales (up to 20-30) east of Cape Cod.

Take a look at a map of the Atlantic off the Northeast coast. The last two sightings I have are:

41 46N, 68 29W where some eight whales were seen one day.
41 06N, 69 00W where six whales were seen.

They probably make this shift according to the availability of prey. Right whales search out concentrations of copepods, and when the numbers of these small crustaceans drops in one area, they seek them out elsewhere.

Both areas are along the 50 fathom contour which marks the western part of Georges Bank. The second position is quite close to the major shipping lanes which travel northward along the coast up to Boston. Unfortunately for the whales, the areas in which they tend to find their food at this time of the year are also another major travel lane for humans and our ships.

Researchers Report Entanglements
We've also heard that up to three right whales may be entangled in fishing gear, according to reports from observers. One whale was approached and researchers were able to attach a satellite tag to the gear. When the whale gets to a place where researchers can more easily get to it (closer to shore) or if it appears to slow down considerably (meaning a potentially life-threatening entanglement), a rescue team will attempt a disentanglement. This group of researchers from the Center for Coastal Studies (with assistance from the Coast Guard -- air-lifts to distant waters and stand-by vessels) will attempt to cut away the restricting lines.

Observers have not yet resighted the other two whales. They may have freed themselves from their gear, they may still be out there in waters too distant to search, or the entanglements have proven fatal. Although right whales float when dead, they do eventually sink as they decay and are consumed by other marine life. Let's hope that the first possibility is what occurred.

Bon Voyage to Places Yet Unknown
After feeding in the Great South Channel, the whales will then move to the Bay of Fundy near Grand Manan Island and to Brown's Bank off Nova Scotia for summer feeding and breeding. Researchers do not know if there is another place that the whales visit between the Channel and the Canadian locations. And when the summer season is over, the pregnant females will again head south to the calving grounds -- the others to places as yet unknown. Hopefully the 1999-2000 winter season will bring with it many more calves than we saw this year. The survival of this species depends on it.

Keeping In Touch With Whales This Summer
I hope all of you have a wonderful summer, filled with exciting times and pleasant memories. And remember that you can continue your own studies in animal migrations even if you're not in school. Keep an eye out for animals around your house. If you get to the coast, you may want to participate in a whale watch. Or go birdwatching almost anywhere. Many museums and nature centers sponsor these programs, and if you have access to the Internet this summer check out these web sites:
  • Recent whale data at the WhaleNet

  • You can get the latest info on our new program with the National Geographic Society called theSustainable Seas Expedition, with sub dives and ship operations during the first two weeks of July.

Right Whales Lose Important Mother: Discussion of CQ #10
As I mentioned in my last report, the loss of Staccato is especially dire because she was a fertile female, and we asked you this:

"Staccato was the mother to at least 1 in every ___ of all right whales alive today. (In other words, what percentage of the right whale population was born to Staccato?)"

There are only an estimated 300 right whales alive today, and scientists know that she was the mother of at least six calves. That means that 1/50th of the right whale population was born to this mother.

Coming Soon!
Answers to the whale Ask the Expert questions are on their way.

This is Anne Smrcina, education coordinator of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, signing off for this year.

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This is the FINAL Right Whale Migration Update. Have a Nice Summer.

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