News Column

Whale Sighting Worries Marine Experts

Jan. 22, 2013

Mary Ann Bragg

A North Atlantic right whale named "Wart" and her 3-week-old calf hugged the shore near Plymouth Harbor on Monday afternoon, but experts who surveyed the two marine mammals were worried about their ability to withstand the winter storm predicted for Monday night and today.

"Will they remain there? I don't know," said Charles "Stormy" Mayo of the Province­town Center for Coastal Studies Monday evening by phone, after returning from the boat survey.

The mother and calf were first sighted Jan. 12 off Ply­mouth. Typically, right whales calve in warmer waters off Georgia and Florida and arrive in Cape Cod Bay with their young in the spring.

The earliest a mother and her calf have appeared in Cape waters is March 26, Mayo said, according to records kept at the center.

Scientists theorize that the calf was likely born in the area, given its young age.

North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered large whales in the world, with fewer than 500 surviving. The whales feed in the bay, which is federally designated as a critical habitat.

"They're pretty vulnerable," Regina Asmutis-Silvia of Whale and Dolphin Conservation said Monday evening in Plymouth by phone, after participating in the survey. "Where are they going to go? They're tucked very close to the shore."

Plus, she said, whale experts will have very little opportunity to keep a close eye on the pair given the bad weather that was expected.

"We're going to have to hope," she said.

Forecasters warned Monday of a wide band of snow developing in the evening and lasting until 1 p.m. today across the southern coast of New England, with heavier snow expected on Cape Cod.

Winds were predicted to be from the northeast at 10 to 20 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph, and temperatures in the low 20s.

Researchers from the Provincetown center, along with state and federal marine scientists and Whale and Dolphin Conservation officials, studied the animals Monday from 1:30 to about 4 p.m.

Mayo said they should have the results from the testing -- to determine the viability of the marine environment for the pair -- completed by today.

"They still look pretty healthy," Asmutis-Silvia said. Both are quiet in the water, with what appears to be very little feeding activity. The calf, which is staying very close to its mother, is most likely nursing, Mayo said.

For the past week, the mother and calf have been sighted along the Plymouth shore in areas along the eastern mouth of the Cape Cod Canal to the harbor. The pair typically have been in 20 to 30 feet of water.

Source: (c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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