Provincetown Life Information

North Atlantic Right whales arrive off Provincetown beaches

Published: Mon May 08, 2006
By: Straight Dope in Life > Beach & Ocean
Tools: Tell-a-Friend | Email this author | This is | Add to Yahoo! MyWeb | By Rich Eldred

It’s not only spring that seems late this year; some of our most notable tourists took their time before arriving.

Ultra rare North Atlantic right whales have finally shown up in numbers off Herring Cove and Race Point.

On April 22, the Center for Coastal Studies reported 10 right whales were subsurface feeding offshore from Plymouth and 27 right whales were spotted off Race Point in Provincetown. Considering the world-wide population is about 350, that’s roughly 10 percent of planet Earth’s total.

The state Division of Marine Fisheries has issued an advisory to vessels recommending reduced speed (as slow as 12 knots) in the high risk area to avoid collisions.

“They’re drifting slowly into (Cape Cod) Bay. They’ve been right around Provincetown for about two weeks,” said Stormy Mayo of the Center for Coastal Studies. “We’ve also seen a lot of other kinds of whales, off Herring Cove Beach out to Race Point. The weather has been lousy but people have been seeing them, and humpbacks and finbacks. We’ve had them in (Provincetown) Harbor as well, but not the right whales. It’s one of the best places on earth to see them.”

The whales are all plankton eaters, primarily copepods, a tiny shrimp-like plankton.

“We take a look at the food concentration and they sit right on that like cows in a good pasture,” Mayo said.

Coastal Studies conducts plankton surveys in Cape Cod Bay and off the Outer Cape. When they find high concentrations of food they let the Division of Marine Fisheries know that’s where the whales will be. The bad weather has kept both the aircraft used for whale spotting and boats for plankton sampling ashore.

“By Friday we’ll have a better idea where the whales are,” Mayo said. “A lot of the plankton is near the surface and is affected by the wind. I wouldn’t be surprised to find an amount of food dispersed to the west and southwest corner of the bay (near the canal entrance).

“The group of right whales will follow this food around,” Mayo added. “They’re grazers and they spend hours and hours mouth open, feeding.”

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