For more than 20 years, over 2,300 people have supported our research by participating in the Right Whale Sponsorship Program. As sponsors, they have learned about the plight of this endangered species and our 35 years of research to protect them. The Right Whale Sponsorship Program provides vital support for our work and we are so grateful to all who have taken part in the Program over the years. We have some EXCITING Sponsorship news to share and we hope that in this upcoming holiday season you will consider sponsoring a right whale and/or purchasing one of our great right whale-themed gifts

UPDATED SPONSORSHIP MATERIALS! All of our sponsorship packages have been updated with a fresh new look and materials! Full color informational booklets, the hardcover book “Disappearing Giants”, a one-year subscription to our biannual newsletter, Right Whale Research Newsstickers, and a coupon to the New England Aquarium Gift shop are included in all sponsorships. And don’t forget: Each sponsorship is tax deductible and directly supports our Right Whale Research Program!

NEW WHALES!  There are three new whales available to sponsor: Aphrodite, Manta and Gemini!  Each whale has a fascinating history and we are eager to share their stories with you! Meet all the Sponsorship whales here.
New Sponsorship Whale, Gemini, one of the oldest whales in the population! Photo: Yan Guilbault/NEAq
CALLING ALL TEACHERS! We now offer a Classroom Sponsorship that's perfect for classroom or service projects. Along with all the other sponsorship materials, the Classroom Sponsorship also  includes a single plush right whale for the classroom, stickers for up to 30 students and access to the right whale-themed Smithsonian in your Classroom lesson plans "The Tale of the Whale"

Learn more about our Sponsorship program and the different support levels available here.

RIGHT WHALE THEMED GIFT IDEAS! In addition to sponsoring a right whale, you can shop in support of Right Whale Research by purchasing T-shirts, books or the super soft right whale plushy. Net proceeds go directly toward the annual costs of field research, data analysis and professional collaborations. These all make wonderful gifts for any occasion and shipping is FREE! 

Thanks again to our sponsors for all your support over the years!! 

~ Marilyn and Heather 


#25: BOF 2015 By The Numbers

2 months
21 team staff and volunteers
4 survey boats (Nereid, Callisto, Shelagh, Jupiter)
3 survey areas (Bay of Fundy [BOF], Roseway Basin [RB], Gulf of St. Lawrence [GSL])
35 survey days total
3073 nautical miles on survey total
2 individual whales photographed by GSL team
8 individual whales photographed by BOF team
14 individual whales photographed by RB team
17 known North Atlantic right whale calves born in 2015
1 mom/calf pair sighted (Calvin!)
1 entangled whale seen
1 whale with severe injury seen (chopped fluke)
0 poop samples
0 biopsy samples
1 stranded basking shark
1 orca (Old Thom)
3 years out of 3 that Kelsey has missed Old Thom sightings
3 separate events of fishing rope caught around Nereid propeller
1 unfinished dock
1 massive fog monster
36 field seasons in BOF completed!

"But... how do we get to shore?"


#24: Last days on Roseway Basin and an exciting surprise!

After a terrific day with right whales on September 13, we retreated to the wharf at Sable Fish Packers on Cape Sable Island, NS, to nestle among the fishing boats and wait out another couple of days of bad weather. By Monday, the weather had moved through, finally clearing on land, however the fog lingered offshore.

Fog clearing at Cape Sable Island. Photo: Moira Brown

Nestled among the fishing boats. Photo: Moira Brown

On Tuesday morning, September 16th, we headed out at first light, full of anticipation of more right whales. But they had vanished from where we had seen them the week before; it has been like surveying for melting ice cubes this year! Nonetheless, we forged ever hopeful surveying the Roseway Basin critical habitat traveling on north-south tracklines from east to west. We spotted right whale flukes in the waning minutes of daylight, and stopped there for the night on the western corner of the critical habitat. Our sleep was interrupted when the currents took us east to within 2 nm of one fishing boat and with others close by. The Captain was raised by the team on watch to steer us to the west away from other boats.

Sunrise on Wednesday was clear and calm and gave us hope for one last good day. Only 10 nm south of the end of our last trackline, we decided to add some additional east to west lines in case the right whale in the distance the afternoon before was still in the area. We surveyed to the east and ran into patches of fog (again); traveled north a couple of miles and then back to the west, the fog bank persisting to the south.  Upon reaching our starting point for the day, we turned north with a plan to survey all the way to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, where we would spend the night. The team’s mood was quiet—we had been hopeful of more right whale sightings on this last day.  

Conditions had become so calm it was hard to detect whale blows. The team on watch radioed down to the Captain to slow the boat—flukes had been seen. Meanwhile a team member on the deck getting ready to replace the team on watch called to the captain – there’s a right whale right beside the boat! Sure enough, a small animal was just rolling around at the surface. We swung the boat around, and starting shooting photographs and video footage. Before long a much larger whale surfaced and the broad white scar on her right flank sealed the id: it was Calvin (Catalog #2223)! The smaller whale was her calf!

Calvin's large scar helps identify her. Her calf swims beside her in the background. Photo: Kelsey Howe

It was September 17th, 23 years and 12 days after Calvin’s mother Delilah had been killed by a ship in the Bay of Fundy. Calvin was less than a year old at the time and survived early weaning and then later two entanglements in 1994 and 2000; the latter one serious enough to require intervention by whale rescue teams. This sighting in 2015 was with her third calf and was remarkable in many ways.

Hanging out on Roseway Basin. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom

Mother calf pairs are quite unusual on Roseway Basin; only seven have been recorded since 1985 prior to Calvin and her calf this year. It was the second sighting of Calvin and her calf this summer. The previous one occurred on August 20 near Pomquet Beach near Antigonish, NS, in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, when they were photographed by biologists studying piping plovers.

The curious, playful calf. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom

Calvin has become an icon for the struggles of the North Atlantic right whale from the impacts of vessel strike and gear entanglement and is yet again an icon for a trend of changes in patterns of habitat use over the last four years. The New England Aquarium team and the public values her so much, we made Calvin one of the whales available to sponsor through our sponsorship program!

Click "play" to experience what it was like to be near this pair! (viewable in HD)

Following our return from the survey, I traveled to Saint John, NB, and stood below the skeleton of Delilah to speak to a reporter about our sighting of Calvin, quite an emotional location to tell a story we never dreamed of in 1992—that the little calf would survive and go on to be now a three-time mother.

Taken almost 23 years after Calvin's mother was killed by a ship strike, Calvin has now birthed three calves. Photo: Kelsey Howe 

We had one more right whale sighting at the end of this day, bringing the total of right whales seen on our second Roseway trip to 17! Our surveys are over for this year, and the winter will be spent pouring over the photos and data, and planning for 2016.  The research team on the Shelagh would like to extend our gratitude to our Captain Joe Howlett for making all of our trips safe, fun and successful!

Captain Joe gets a closer look at Calvin and her calf! Photo: Marianna Hagbloom

- Moe


#23: The Rain Never Bothered Us Anyway (Roseway Basin)

After a two-day Shelburne respite from the open ocean, we ventured back out onto Roseway Basin on September 12th.  We surveyed the eastern side and it was very gray and overcast the whole day, without much to see.  Then, on the final watch of the day, Moe and Marianna spotted a whale blow and a shallow fluking dive: our first right whale on Roseway Basin this season!  It was a pretty big deal on the boat and immediately lifted the mood. Unfortunately the sun was setting when we first found the whale, so we lost daylight very quickly and eventually had to let the whale go without having shot the perfect photo series.  The important thing is that we were later able to identify the whale as Catalog #2350, an at least 24 year-old male last sighted in Cape Cod Bay in 2013.

Our very first right whale on Roseway Basin: #2350.  Photo credit: Kelsey Howe
Encouraged by our small victory, the following day found us starting in the same place where we left off the previous night, in hopes that our single sighting was not a fluke (no pun intended) and that more whales might be in the vicinity. And FINALLY some good luck kicked in and we found right whales almost immediately.  Our first right whale of the day was identified on the spot by Marianna as Catalog #2201, a 23 year-old male, who we documented last year in August in the Bay of Fundy (BOF). This whale is the last known calf of Fermata, #1001, the very first North Atlantic right whale to be cataloged. Fermata was last seen in BOF in 1992 with her fifth calf (#2201).  A week later, #2201 was seen without his mom, and sadly she has not been seen since.

The right flank scar helped identify this whale as #2201.  Photo credit: Marianna Hagbloom
As we were working Catalog #2201, we saw multiple blows and right whale flukes nearby. Unfortunately, squalls were lining up on the horizon and our sea state dipped from manageable to sloppy. But after a slow season hampered by bad weather, we were not going to be distracted or intimidated from doing what we came there to do. We briefly photographed #3191 (a male at least 15 years of age) before another whale popped up with a severe fluke injury.

The horrifying remnants of this whale's fluke.  Photo credit: Hilary Moors-Murphy
It was right around this time that the first rain storm hit. But now, with only two photos of a probably lethally wounded whale, we would not be deterred! The key is to stick the camera inside your float coat to stay dry and then whip it out just in time to photograph a surfacing whale. Yet no matter how hard we tried, we ended up losing the injured whale in the rain. We hope that we'll be able to identify this individual based on small scars on the peduncle, and that this whale is seen again so that the injury and body condition of the animal can be better documented.

The squall passed soon enough and there were other whales in the area to photograph: Catalog #2018 (Dalmation), #3701 (Eros), #2790, and #3934.  Dalmation, named for the white spots on his lower jaw, is a 25 year-old male seen earlier this year off southern New England.  Eros, an 8 year-old male, seen last year out on Roseway Basin, is named after the mythological son of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, the namesake of his mother #1701.

Eros surfacing close to the boat.  Photo credit: Kelsey Howe
Catalog #2790 is a calving female at least 18 years old, who was last seen in the southeast with a calf this past winter. It was slightly unsettling for us to not see or photograph her calf (since most calves are not fully weaned by this time), but it should be taken into account that our sighting of her was less than one minute long and the weather conditions were poor.

Recent mother, #2790, seen briefly for a single surfacing.  Photo credit: Hilary Moors-Murphy
Catalog #3934, a 6 year-old female, is the eighth of nine calves born to #1334. Her mother has a very interesting sighting history: with the exception of three sightings, #1334 only frequents the southeast calving grounds every few years when she gives birth to a calf.  This sighting history implies that she must go somewhere other than the Gulf of Maine region to feed.  However, it is interesting to note that her daughter has a more robust sighting history, including a handful of sightings in Cape Cod Bay and Roseway Basin.

#3934 raising her flukes high for a dive.  Photo credit: Kelsey Howe
All in all, we photographed a total of eight individual right whales that morning amidst several rain squalls and a rough sea state, but we all agreed that there were a couple more whales in the area that remained unphotographed.

Later on in the afternoon, we had two more right whales, both old males and familiar faces to this project. Catalog #1306 (Velcro) is an at least 32 year-old male with an extensive Bay of Fundy sighting history, and #1327 (Scoop) is an older male (at least 33 years old) seen last year in BOF.

Scoop (top) and Velcro photographed together.  Photo credit: Jen Gatzke

Scoop, lifting his ventral, left fluke lobe. The blunt, white fluke tip is a matchable feature. Photo credit: Kelsey Howe
As we were photographing these two whales, the fog rolled in. However, after reviewing photos inside the wheelhouse of the Shelagh, we noticed a small green line exiting the left side of Velcro's mouth. Fishing entanglements can be very serious and greatly impact the health and longevity of a whale, so we immediately went back to our previous position to try to relocate him for better documentation.

Notice the small green line exiting the left side of Velcro's mouth.  Photo credit: Jen Gatzke
Unfortunately, while the Shelagh is equipped with disentanglement gear, we learned from a disentanglement attempt back in 2013 that she is not the best platform to work from--she is too large and slow. Our colleagues up and down the East Coast usually use a small inflatable boat for this sort of work, so the most we could do in this situation was get more photos and video of the entanglement (similar to our documentation of an entangled right whale in 2014), especially since it was not a previously known entanglement case. Luckily, as we made our way back to where we had last seen the pair, one of them breached in the fog.

Either Scoop or Velcro breaching in the fog. Photo credit: Kelsey Howe
We attempted to better photo-document Velcro, but it was not long before the fog became too thick and unworkable. We had to call it a day and head for land, where we would spend the next two days at Cape Sable Island waiting for storms to pass.

We were so excited to finally be able to work whales and do what we had come all this way to do. There IS life on Roseway Basin and right whales still use this habitat, which is very gratifying and comforting. In total, we photographed 11 individual right whales in this two-day period, many of which were interesting and/or troubling sightings. It is never fun to find an entangled or wounded whale, but it is very important to document them because they exist out there, whether or not we know about it. The more we know, the better we can attempt to help and prevent these occurrences...or at least, that is the goal. And that is why we sometimes photograph through rainstorms.



#22: The Final Fundy Push

Early on September 22 as we were surveying the Bay of Fundy, we spotted the flukes of a large, diving whale and soon realized there was more than one whale in the area. We found two humpbacks and photographed them. As we were working them, we spotted a right whale close by, identified as Glacier (Catalog #1402).

Glacier's back scar is visible where the water starts to wash over his back. Photo: Samantha Emmert

Glacier is a 31-year old male last sighted in 2013 off the Northern Florida coast. He is named for a large white scar on his back that looks like melting glacier. When we first found him, he was fluking in a unique way that resembled tail slashing, and he also lobtailed briefly. We followed Glacier and soon found a second right whale, Comet (#1514). The two surfaced near each other at one point, but did not seem to be associated.

Comet took a minute to rest at the surface. Photo: Johanna Anderson

Comet is at least 30 years old and was last seen in 2014. He also has a distinctive scar on his back, from which he derives his name. By the end of the day these were the only right whales we found, but we did see a total of 202 harbor porpoise, as well as a few other humpback and minke whales.

The wind unexpectedly died down on the morning of September 25, so we decided to head out for our last afternoon on the Bay of Fundy. A team of six went out on the Nereid to survey North and East, and a team of two joined Chris on his boat, Jupiter, to survey South and West.

On the Nereid, we saw very few animals during our first few hours on the water. Then, Kelsey saw some whitewater in a seaweed patch, which typically indicates of the presence of an animal. We slowed down to identify the creature, and it turned out to be a right whale! It was behaving strangely, waving the tip of its fluke back and forth just above the water, then sinking for long periods of time without fluking.

We have a potential ID for this younger whale, but as of yet, the ID is not confirmed. Photo: Kelsey Howe

We had a difficult time getting ID-able photographs during this encounter and ended up staying with the whale for about an hour, without much success. We also saw a second right whale fluke a bit further away and photographed it from a distance, but were unable to relocate it. Even though these two sightings were frustrating and hard to work, we were excited that there were whales in the Bay! After leaving the whales, we continued our survey but did not see much more than harbor porpoise, puffins, and a basking shark breaching in the distance.

The Jupiter surveyed some new areas for the season and made a pit stop to check out the historic lighthouse on Gannet Rock (built in 1831!). Though they didn't have any luck in finding right whales, they did get some close looks at a pair of humpbacks, one of which lobtailed several times!

This humpback picked the perfect setting to lobtail. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom

While crossing the Grand Manan Channel, we all were treated to arguably the most spectacular sunset of the season.

And it only got better.... Photo: Brigid McKenna

The wind looks like it will be blowing hard for the rest of the week, so sadly, the 25th really was our last day out on the water. The Nereid will be hauled out of the water and the field station will be packed up this week. The whales were few and far between this season, but we did our best to find the ones that did venture into the Bay of Fundy.