Where Did the Right Whales Go?
If whales are going to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada to search for food, they are swimming as much as 700 to 800 additional miles, which means they will need to eat more to stay fully nourished, said Sean Hayes, protected species branch chief with NOAA in Woods Hole, Mass., who was not involved in the new study.
Right whale sightings were uncommon in the Gulf of St. Lawrence before 2017, said Catherine Brennan, of the Ocean and Ecosystem Sciences Division of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. But about 130 individuals were identified in the gulf last year.
Although they congregate in the southern part of the gulf, they have been crossing major shipping lanes, which puts them at risk, according to Catherine Johnson, a biological oceanographer who was a co-author on the paper.
Canada has imposed lower boat speed limits, restricted some fishing around shipping lanes and fishing areas, and added aerial and acoustic surveillance to try to better understand where the whales are congregating, said Hilary Moors-Murphy, research scientist for the Maritimes Region whale research program at Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
With just about one-third to half of all of the whales seen in Canada in recent years, researchers are unsure where the others are.
Dr. Mayo’s staff flies daily over Cape Cod Bay, and crosses it in boats, scouring for whale activity. Now that some right whales are diving deeper to feed off a species called Pseudocalanus, they’re harder to spot, Dr. Mayo said.
To combat entanglement in fishing lines, NOAA has been working with the fishing industry and inventors to experiment with lobster pots that are not connected by rope to buoys at the surface, Dr. Hayes said.