The first North Atlantic right whale mother and calf pair has arrived in Cape Cod Bay. The Right Whale Ecology Program team from the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) sighted the pair on March 18––Porcia, a 21-year-old right whale, and her newborn calf. They were first seen in late December off the coast of Georgia.
Yesterday, Susan and I were fortunate go on a Whale Walk sponsored by the Center. It turned out to not much of a walk because whales came close to shore next to the pavilion where we were supposed to start. They were relatively easy to see as they fed at the surface, so we had a sort of stationary walk.
We learned a useful tip from Jesse Mechling who led the group: If you see a large black rock moving across the water, it’s probably a right whale. There’s no evidence for black rocks off Cape Cod moving in that way.
The North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered. There are fewer than 340 individuals left and only 80 breeding females. The principal factors in their decline are shipping and entanglement from fishing gear. They’re called “urban whales” because they’re trying to survive off the shore of dense human populations with some of the most active shipping and fishing in the world.
They’re also affected by global warming, which results in warming of the oceans, shifts in the populations of copepods, alterations of the feeding patterns of the whales, coming into the way of new harms, etc. These issues are discussed at our annual Wellfleet harbor conference.
I have very mixed feelings right now. On the one hand I feel incredibly fortunate to benefit from organizations such as the CCS and their public engagement programs. I love being able to go a short distance to see relatively unpolluted beaches and magnificent creatures such as the right whales, directly from shore.
But on the other hand, I feel shame knowing that my generation is responsible for the destruction of these whales and other wildlife, and the habitats that they need to survive.