#1 Quest for the Right Whale Mating Ground

There are many aspects of the life and habits of North Atlantic right whales that remain elusive and one long-standing mystery is the location of their mating ground. Most right whale calves are born from December through February on the only known calving ground, located in the waters of the southeast U.S. We estimate that the gestation period is 12 to 13 months, which means mating likely takes place between November and January.

In January 2002, right whales were seen from a military vessel southwest of Jordan Basin in the central Gulf of Maine, approximately 60 miles south of Bar Harbor, Maine. From 2004 through 2009 in November, December and January, scientists from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC, Woods Hole, MA) recorded aggregations of right whales in the same area (their image provided below).

In November and December 2010 and early January 2011, a joint international research team from the New England Aquarium (NEAq) and the Canadian Whale Institute (CWI, Wilson's Beach, NB) will charter a vessel from Bar Harbor, ME. The team will carry out vessel surveys in this area to collect photographs of right whales for individual identification, scarring and health assessment as well as skin biopsy samples for ongoing genetics studies, and fecal samples for studies on reproductive hormones. Funding for the field study has been provided by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission (grant to NEAq) and the Canadian Wildlife Federation and TD Bank (grant to CWI).

Friendship V

The survey vessel, Friendship V, is being chartered from Ocean Properties who are providing additional in kind financial support and with rooms at the Harborside Hotel for the researchers before and after the cruises. With enough funding for four survey days, the plan is, weather permitting, to survey one day in November, two days in December and a fourth day in January. Ideal weather is a must, which means less than 15 knots of wind and a swell of not more than 3 to 5 feet, and less is better on both counts. Stay tuned as we monitor the weather daily to find a suitable day.

- Moe Brown

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