Right Whale Right Whale
Today's News Report Your Sightings How to Use Journey North Search Journey North

Right Whale Migration Update: May 24, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Greetings from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
My apologies for not sending in a report two weeks ago, but a variety of projects have eaten up time for our small staff at the sanctuary. This will be my final report for the season.

Scientists Discuss Low Pregnancy Rate in Conference
As was noted in earlier reports, there was only one confirmed mother-calf pair spotted in the calving grounds, the area off the coast of northern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The few whales that did get down to that area (including some males and non-pregnant females) were gone by the end of February. Scientists are worried about this drop in the birth rate for these whales. The past two years were also low, 3 last year and 5 live/1 stillborn in '97-98. A workshop on the Causes of Reproductive Failure in North Atlantic Right Whales was held during the last week in April.

Five Possible Reasons for Low Rates
The scientists came up with five possibilities for the low rates:
1. One hypothesis is that the whales are starving and not in fit condition to conceive and carry a fetus. Some researchers have noted that southern right whales (especially a population off of South America) seem to have more blubber (including a roll of fat just behind their blowholes) than their northern counterparts. The southern population also seems to be increasing at a healthy number.
2. It may be that global climate changes, or perhaps the El Nino/La Nina cycle, have decreased the amount of zooplankton in northern waters thereby decreasing the food supply for these whales.
3. Other suggested possibilities include the problem of environmental contaminants that act as endocrine disrupters (affecting reproduction). These contaminants can cause infectious diseases. Recent necropsies of right whales have shown lesions on the skin and in the mouths of some of the population.
4. Biotoxins, toxic substances that are produced by biological organisms such as red tides, and are becoming more common in the ocean. They are a concern to marine animals.
5. Low genetic diversity is another possible reason for the low birth rates. Although some scientists report that with five maternal lines, diversity should be sufficient to keep the species going, others are concerned this may be a factor in the low rate of reproduction.

Nevertheless, something is afoot, and the population for the North Atlantic population is now calculated to be under 300 individuals.

Local News from Cape Cod
Locally, whales have departed from Cape Cod Bay their late winter feeding ground and are now being seen in the Great South Channel and on Georges Bank. A whale was recently spotted in Wilkinson Basin east of Stellwagen Bank that was entangled in fishing gear. A disentanglement team from the Center for Coastal Studies (on a humpback whale research cruise sponsored by the Stellwagen Sanctuary) was diverted to the whale's location to attempt a rescue. Unsuccessfully carried through, unfortunately.

Where Oh Where Could That Little Whale Be?
Reports from the New England Aquarium's Right Whale Research Group indicate that the right whales have not yet started to appear in the Bay of Fundy (their summer feeding ground). Also, they don't expect to see the one mother-calf pair. This particular mother is an off-shore whale that has never been seen in Cape Cod Bay or the Bay of Fundy. Where this whale might be going is a mystery.

Mysterious "Off-Shore" Whale Locations
Many of the whales disappear for long periods of time before appearing at the traditional feeding, breeding or calving grounds. Some visit all locations with breaks between, some visit only one location (and are never seen elsewhere!)! Scientists suspect there are some off-shore areas that might be where these whales congregate. If the areas were closer to shore they would have probably been noticed by now.

Scientist Uses Historic Whaling Journals to Plot Research Trip
A scientist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is embarking on a 15-month cruise throughout the North Atlantic in search of possible right whale habitats. Dr. Michael Moore is using information about whale sightings in historic whaling journals to survey these off-shore locations. A web site has been established to follow the progress of his research trip. You can check it out on WhaleNet (http://whale.wheelock.edu/Rosita/), a site that also has a lot of other great information about right whales and other marine mammals.

Good Bye for the Season from Anne Smrcina
That's all for this final Right Whale Report. I'd like to thank you all for your interest in this fascinating creature. Let's hope that future Journey North reports, next year and beyond, will have more positive findings about the recovery of this most endangered great whale. This is Anne Smrcina, education coordinator for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, signing off for this season.

Discussion of Challenge Question #13, Clocking the Whale's Odometer

Range of Right Whale
Courtesy of
Macalester College

"How great is the distance the one mother-calf pair would have to travel between South Carolina and the Gulf of Maine/Great South Channel?(Use Nantucket Island as a reference point). Measure using a mileage program or any other creative measuring system, then calculate nautical miles." The whales could chalk up quite a few miles on this trip depending on how near the shoreline they swim. The answer could be anything more than about 600 nautical miles.
Thanks to the Fourth Grade students at Margaret Ashley Academy, in Mrs. Patterson's Class (ashacadg4@hotmail.com) for all your calculating!

Big Whales Weigh A Lot: Discussion of Challenge Question # 14
It is hard to even imagine a mammal as large as a whale! Right whales can grow to be 12 - 16.5 meters (40-55 feet)in length, and can weigh up to 63.5 metric tons! We asked, "How many pounds is that? What weighs the same as a right whale? (How many elephants?) How much does the right whale's blubber weigh?"

Do you know your math for finding out how many pounds 63.5 metric tons equals?
Well, a ton is 2200 pounds. So, to find your answer, you need do some simple multiplication: 63.5 tons X 2200 pounds per ton =139,700 pounds

How Many Elephants Does it Take to Balance a See-Saw?
Maybe it is easier to imagine that weight in elephants, since many of us have seen elephants and know how big they are! How many elephants would it take to weigh as much as one right whale? The male African elephant can weigh up to six tons. Imagine a see-saw with one right whale on one side and 10 elephants on the other! That's a funny picture!

Back to Blubber
If a right whale's weight is two fifths blubber, how much does that blubber weigh? Here is the math:
139,700 pounds divided by 5 (one-fifth)=27,940 pounds.
27,940 X 2 (for a total of two-fifths)= 55,880 pounds.
No wonder whalers loved right whales! Oil produced from the blubber was used in lamps and as a lubricant. When the process of hydrogenation was developed, whale oil was used in the manufacture of margarine, lard and shortening! Amazing!

Challenge Question #15-Whales are Big Eaters: How Much Do They Eat?
"What percent of the total weight of a whale does a whale eat each day? How much would you need to eat each day if you were eating as much as a whale?"
To solve this question, you need to do some clever calculations. Right whales eat about a ton of food a day. They weigh about 63.5 tons. To find the percentage of food to their weight, you will need to divide 1 ton by 63.5 tons. This gives you .0173. Multiply this number by 100 to get the percent and you end up with 1.73 percent.
How much yould you need to eat each day if you were eating as much as a whale? If you weigh 100 pounds, you would only need to eat 1.73 pounds of food. That isn't much, in fact, if your are eating a balanced diet, you would lose weight on that much food. Whales don't lose weight. Whales eat surprisingly less than you might think! They are very efficient about the food (calories) they consume!
Right whales may be eating up to a ton of food a day and humpbacks are probably consuming 1,500 pounds of sand lance and other small schooling fish. Since right whales are eating tiny copepods, 4,000 of which may fit in a teaspoon, now that's a lot of animals! The larger the whale, the more food it needs.

Journey North
Year End Evaluation
Please share your thoughts

This is the FINAL Right Whale Migration Update for 2000. Learning about the Right Whale is the first step towards helping save them for our lifetime and that of our childrens' and grandchildrens'. We hope you learned some new things and we would love to have you join us next year for another season of following the migration of the Right Whale.

Copyright 2000 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

Today's News Today's News Report Your Sightings How to Use Journey North Search Journey North