More than a dozen right whales spotted off Massachusetts coast

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NANTUCKET, Mass. (WWLP) – More than a dozen right whales have been seen near the Massachusetts coast in recent weeks, a sign of the mammals in local waters more often.

North Atlantic right whales during this time of the year travel from Canadian waters down south, and the New England Aquarium spotted some of these whales in southern New England. Scientists have spotted 15 different whales 20 miles off the south coast of Nantucket from October 1 to October 3. The whales were spotted feeding in the waters and also communicating with one another.

Right whales are currently considered endangered, with a population estimated to be less than 360.

“In addition to feeding, we saw several right whales making body contact with each other using their flippers, heads, and even rolling at the surface—indicating that these whales were socializing as well,” said Katherine McKenna, research assistant at the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life. “We also observed several humpback whales feeding near the right whales, which highlights the importance and productivity of the southern New England habitat.” 

“We often see right whales feeding over the Nantucket Shoals, and we saw evidence of this on both of our surveys last week,” said Associate Scientist Orla O’Brien. “Although we are not sure specifically what prey species they are targeting in this area, it is a good sign as right whales have had to adapt to the changing distribution of their prey in the last decade.”

In recent years, survey teams have noticed an increase of right whales swimming through the southern New England waters. Several of the whales photographed are known to be traveling through the area, but behaviors from other whales indicate they may be spending more time in the waters off the Massachusetts coast.

Slalom (Credit: New England Aquarium)

The whale photographed above, named “Slalom” is a repeated visitor of the area. Scientists say she has given birth to five calves, three of which are still alive.

“Around this time, we think of right whales as traveling south to their calving grounds, but a lot of whales stay in southern New England as well. When we see adult females like Slalom, of course we hope she will travel south to calve, but she may stay in northern waters to feed a bit before making that journey,” O’Brien said. It has been 10 years since her last reported calf.

Right whale surveys south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have been regularly conducted over the last past decade, including waters considered part of wind energy development. The research conducted by aerial survey teams has been funded by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and four wind energy developers. The surveys help monitor changes in the area’s aquatic population.

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