What are those whales doing in Cape Cod Bay?

It's been a bumpy transition from winter, but solid signs of spring are finally here: geese have been spotted flying northward, crocuses are popping out of the ground, and right whales are feeding in Cape Cod Bay!

Skim feeding in Cape Cod Bay! Photo: Amy Knowlton

The Bay has recently been hosting our beloved creatures as it does every spring, and it will continue to do so for several more weeks as the feeding season moves into full swing. Right whales feasting on abundant concentrations of tiny copepods can be seen skimming the surface as they filter their prey from the water.

About the size of a grain of rice, this is what copepods look like to the human eye. This sample was collected by our team in the Bay of Fundy, a summer feeding habitat.

How do they achieve this? Baleen! These long plates of keratin hang down from the roof of the mouth. While the outside of the baleen looks smooth and orderly, the inside looks more like matted hair—a net that traps those copepods so they can get gobbled up.

A view into the mouth—see the tongue? Notice how the inside of the baleen plates look a bit roughed up? This tangle of fringed baleen creates a net to trap food. Photo: Amy Knowlton 

Just like an iceburg, there's so much more below the surface! Photo: Amy Knowlton

Many lucky people will get to see these whales in action—while watching from the shore! To help protect these endangered whales, laws exist to make it illegal to approach a right whale within 500 yards, so watching from the shoreline is the best way for humans to observe these hungry whales. Please remember that if you, your family or friends are on a boat in Cape Cod Bay this spring, watch out for whales and slow down!! These creatures can be difficult to see and don't move very fast. Collisions with vessels cause severe injuries to whales, but can also damage boats and harm people on board.

Watching from a distance can make you miss some details though, so I thought some up-close and personal footage of skim feeding right whales would be appropriate. Knowledge of what you're witnessing makes this an even more amazing phenomenon, don't you agree?!

This footage was collected under NOAA/NMFS scientific Permit #15415 issued to 
the New England Aquarium Right Whale Research Team. 


Want to learn more about these amazing, critically-endangered animals?
If you're interested in supporting this important research, consider sponsoring a right whale! Meet the whales and find out how your donation can help right whale research.

North Atlantic right whales are endangered. To protect this species, IT IS ILLEGAL for vessels/humans to approach a North Atlantic right whale within 500 yards while in U.S. waters. If you see a right whale, please report it to NOAA at 978-585-8473. Injured, dead or entangled right whales should be immediately reported to NOAA at 1-866-755-NOAA (6622), or please call the USCG on VHF channel 16.

1 comment:

  1. All the stories of whales and Jonah and the big fish, wow, you're right watching this video makes it more realistic than expected...Thank you for posting it.