Gulf of Maine identified as new breeding ground for endangered whales

January 5th, 2009 - 3:23 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 5 (ANI): A team of scientists has claimed to have identified the Gulf of Maine in the US as a wintering ground and potentially a new breeding ground for a group of endangered whales.

Researchers at NOAAs Northeast Fisheries Science Center have identified this new breeding ground, after reports that a large number of North Atlantic right whales have been seen in the Gulf of Maine in recent days.

The NEFSCs aerial survey team saw 44 individual right whales on December 3rd in the Jordan Basin area, located about 70 miles south of Bar Harbor, Maine.

Weather permitting, the team regularly surveys the waters from Maine to Long Island and offshore 150 miles to the Hague Line (the U.S.-Canadian border), an area about 25,000 square nautical miles.

Were excited because seeing 44 right whales together in the Gulf of Maine is a record for the winter months, when daily observations of three to five animals are much more common, said Tim Cole, who heads the team.

Right whales are baleen whales, and in the winter spend a lot of time diving for food deep in the water column. Seeing so many of them at the surface when we are flying over an area is a bit of luck, he added.

On December 14th, the team saw 41 right whales just west of Jordan Basin.

An estimated 100 female North Atlantic right whales head south in winter to give birth in the waters off Florida and Georgia, but little is known about where other individual right whales in the population go in winter, largely due to difficult surveying conditions.

Given the large geographical area over which North Atlantic right whales can occur, Cole and NEFSC colleagues developed an aerial grid system a few years ago for the Gulf of Maine and waters around Cape Cod to ensure complete coverage of the region.

The grid resulted in consistent surveys of areas infrequently surveyed in the past, like Jordan Basin and the Great South Channel, and have shown that whales congregate in certain areas at certain times.

With a population estimated to be about 325 whales, knowing where the whales are at any time is critical to protect them.

Finding an aggregation of whales can trigger a management action affording protection, such as slowing ship speeds in the vicinity of the whales. (ANI)

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