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Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies

Providing vital insights into Right Whales

February 21st, 2014

The population of critically-endangered right whales left in the world is approximately 510, and according to the research conducted by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies Dr. Charles "Stormy" Mayo, and members the Right Whale Research Program, about half of them have congregated in the Bay each winter and spring during the last 4 years, drawn by dense concentrations of the zooplankton upon which they feed. This year is already starting to show a continuation of the trend. Wart, one of the longest studied whales, a favorite in the area, and the mother of seven calves, was spotted in mid-January, and this month, 21 right whales were sighted in the northeast section of the Bay, between Long Point and Wellfleet Harbor.

Comparisons of this data with those from previous years should eventually allow Mayo and other Center scientists to document ongoing changes in the whales' critically important habitat and their use of its rich food resources.

Working closely with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Protected Resources, the research teams from the Center for Coastal Studies will be on the water and in the air when weather allows, documenting the whales and collecting samples to determine the concentration and type of zooplankton currently in the Bay. Comparisons of these data with those from previous years should eventually allow Mayo and other Center scientists to document ongoing changes in the whales' critically important habitat and their use of its rich food resources.

Upcoming activities by Wart and all the other right whales may be difficult to document, with PCCS’s research hampered significantly by funding loss due to significant reductions in federal funding! This year Mayo’s boat-based habitat studies team was only able to schedule cruises, as opposed to the regular 16, and the aerial survey team’s hours have also been slashed. Mayo noted recently that with the right whale population in a state of change that is itself a reaction to changes in the animals’ environment, such as food supplies and water temperature, the need for solid, sustained scientific research is critical. Last year, for example, many of the right whales congregated on the western side of the bay, instead of on the eastern side as they usually did in the past. It was the first time the whales had behaved that way in the history of Coastal Studies’ right whale work, and it underscores the urgency of understanding what environmental conditions the animals are responding to. “We really need to get out on the boat to understand what those changes are,” he said.

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PCCS recently received some amazing news, namely that an anonymous donor has come forward to say that they will MATCH all donations to the right whale program between now and March 1st - up to a total of $10,000! That means that with their help and yours, the right whale research and rescue program will be in a position to complete a full field season! If you care about our vibrant marine environment or you've ever marveled at the sight of whales in Cape Cod Bay, you can do a great deal toward helping PCCS continue their work by donating what you can to support not only the right whale research program, but to all their other efforts as well. If you donate after March 1, 2014, it may not be matched, but will still serve to restore survey trips, as well as providing funds to repair and replace old or malfunctioning equipment!

PCCS, established in 1976, has a mission which includes marine animal rescue, marine mammal research, marine geology, marine fisheries research, estuarine studies, marine policy work to conserve and protect critical habitats, and educational outreach to the community and visitors, in the form of low-cost lectures, guided field walks, their annual Whale Week education event, and more.

To take advantage of this amazing matching opportunity, and get those survey teams back out in Cape Cod Bay, please call Catherine Macort at 508-487-3622 x103, or visit Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Chris Daniels is a writer, photographer and office-guru-about-town who shares her life with a bossy cat and “Damon, the Dog With the Toy”

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