Sponsor a Right Whale: Shackleton

Sponsoring a right whale through the New England Aquarium supports the critical research we're doing to protect this endangered species. This holiday season, give a sponsorship! It's a gift that gives back to our blue planet. Today's post introduces one of the whales available for sponsorship: Shackleton

Shackleton the right whale (Catalog #2440) was named after the Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. There's a good reason why: when Shackleton was just a one year-old, he swam up the Delaware River and made it as far north as Camden, NJ!

Shackleton in the Bay of Fundy. Photo: New England Aquarium

His adventure lasted for days, during which he was hit by a tug boat (it did not result in any serious injury). Fear of another vessel strike remained constant, and concerns for his health grew as he swam further upriver, since the makeup of the water was becoming more fresh (right whales are made for the salty sea!). The news footage below is from a recording (remember VHS?) from this ordeal:

Luckily, Shackleton found his way back to the Atlantic Ocean, where he faces other sorts of threats. He survived a second vessel strike, which was more significant and left a line of propeller marks on his body. He has also been through at least three different entanglements in fishing gear. Since he's overcome quite a few obstacles, we had to celebrate this year's milestone: Shackleton turned 20 years old!

Healed propeller cuts left substantial scars on Shackleton's body. Photo: New England Aquarium

- Marianna


Sponsor a Right Whale: Piper

Sponsoring a right whale through the New England Aquarium supports the critical research we're doing to protect this endangered species. This holiday season, give a sponsorship! It's a gift that gives back to our blue planet. Today's post introduces one of the whales available for sponsorship: Piper.
Piper is named for a small scar on her left flank. With some imagination the scar looks like a small airplane- a Piper Cub.  Unfortunately, she is now easily recognized in the field not for the little "Piper Cub" scar but more for her extensive scars, divots and marks left by multiple entanglement events (and a tagging event).
Piper (Catalog #2320) is named for one of her many scars.  On her left flank is her "Piper Cub".
Piper is an adult female that is at least 21 years old.  We don't actually know how old she is because she was never seen as a calf. Today Piper is successful reproductive female but there were times when researchers thought Piper's future was grim.

Shortly after being added to the Right Whale Catalog as # 2320, Piper was spotted entangled. The year was 1994 and only a single year had pasted since Piper was first documented by researchers. Her entanglement trailed out of the left side of her mouth. Was it just a short piece of line stuck in her baleen, was there a large chunk of gear in her mouth, or worse, had she ingested gear?  The entanglement persisted through much of 1995, but thankfully at some point late that year she became gear free. Things were looking up for the young female. She was documented in the spring feeding grounds of the Great South Channel and Cape Cod Bay, and in the summer habitats of the Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin. She was even seen a number of times in the wintering/calving grounds of the Southeastern U.S, although she had yet to be documented with a calf.  

Piper in 2004, Roseway Basin. Photo: Lindsay (Hall) Cooper-New England Aquarium

August 2, 2002 was a normal day for the research team on the R/V Neried in the Bay of Fundy. The team photographed many right whales that day and amongst them was Piper! As a young female she was important to the small, recovering population.  Researchers hoped that Piper would grow to be a successful reproductive female for the population.

However, just two days later a call came in from a Nova Scotian whale watch boat to report that they had sighted an entangled right whale. It was Piper!

Piper in the Great South Channel (east of Cape Cod, MA) in 2004. Photo: Monica Zani - New England Aquarium. Photo taken under scientific permit issued by NOAA.  Permit #655-1652.
This time the entanglement was worse; it was more complex and again it involved the mouth. Over the next couple of years, Piper would be documented in her normal habitats. She also became the subject of several unsuccessful disentanglement attempts. As her entanglement persisted, researchers worried about her as there was cause for concern for her long-term health. In the spring of 2005 there was a small glimmer of hope when Piper was photographed in Cape Cod Bay. The images were of poor quality and researchers could not determine if the entangling gear was present.  Could she be gear free?

Researchers would have to wait a long nine months before the answer was clear. In January of 2006, a New England Aquarium aerial survey of the wintering/calving grounds of Georgia and Florida photographed Piper. Our photographs confirmed it—Piper was gear free AND she was with a calf! 

 Piper is seen here in 2009 with her second calf .  Photo: Monica Zani - New England Aquarium.  Photo taken under scientific permit from NOAA. Permit #655-1652-01.
Piper became one of the team's Sponsorship whales because she truly has a story of survival. She is one of the team's favorites whales and she is known to travel to all five of the known right whale habitats, which allows us to provide numerous updates on her.  Piper has survived two entanglements and has contributed three calves (2006, 2009 and 2013) to the population in her relativity short life! She is perhaps as strong as the little airplane she was named for.

 Photo: Kara Mahoney-Robinson - New England Aquarium.  Photo taken under scientific permit from NOAA. Permit #655-1652-01.
- Monica


Sponsor a Right Whale: Calvin

Sponsoring a right whale through the New England Aquarium supports the critical research we're doing to protect this endangered species. This holiday season, give a sponsorship! It's a gift that gives back to our blue planet. Today's post introduces one of the whales available for sponsorship: Calvin.

When asked to talk about the challenges that North Atlantic right whales face, our team often brings up Catalog #2223, named Calvin, because her story encapsulates elements of threat and resilience that right whales experience. Sadly, it was when her mother's life ended that Calvin's story really began.

Calvin and Delilah (diving) in the Bay of Fundy, August 1992.

Calvin was born in 1992 to Delilah, a female first seen in 1981. During their first summer together in the Bay of Fundy, Delilah was struck by a large ship. Her death was not immediate, but the blunt force caused her to hemorrhage. A boater on the water that day photographed Delilah violently thrashing before she finally stopped breathing and became still. Delilah had died from ship strike with Calvin by her side. With no mother to guide her through the ocean and no milk to help her grow, researchers didn't think Calvin would survive—but amazingly she did.

Calvin, all grown up! 

Calvin showed resourcefulness and a surprisingly independent nature, and so she was named after the character in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Curating the Right Whale Catalog has allowed us to watch her become an adult and follow her exploits in various habitats. In 2000, she became entangled in fishing gear, but luckily was disentangled by the Center for Coastal Studies in 2001. She still bears the scars on her head, body and peduncle from that experience. Mind-bogglingly, based on our team's scar coding analysis, we know that wasn't Calvin's first entanglement—that occurred even before she arrived in the Bay of Fundy as an 8-month-old! We know that she's been through at least four other entanglement events as well. Unfortunately Calvin's multiple entanglements don't make her an anomaly, as 59% of the population have also been entangled more than once.

Fluking in the Bay of Fundy reveals entanglement scars on Calvin's peduncle.

Happier news arrived in December 2004 when Calvin became a mother for the first time (of course her calf was named Hobbes!) and she brought her calf to the Bay of Fundy, just as her mother had done 13 years earlier. She birthed her second calf in 2009, and perhaps she will give birth to her third calf this winter! Despite the sad circumstances in her life, she offers hope for the future of this species.

Calvin and her first calf in February, 2005.

How has our research benefited from studying Calvin, and how has Calvin benefited from our research? Our scientists were part of the team that necropsied Delilah to discover how she died, which later helped illustrate the troubling issue of ship strikes and influenced efforts to move the shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy. Philip, Marilyn and Scott published a paper on right whale weaning age (which included Calvin's case), and expanded what the scientific community knew about the age a calf could successfully wean. Scarring analysis work teaches us that Calvin has been entangled six times, which opens our eyes to this growing problem, and our Catalog work reveals that she is due to have another calf, which gives us something to look forward to.

Please consider sponsoring Calvin! Your sponsorship donation directly funds our program and helps us advance our research so we can aid conservation efforts. Thank you!

- Marianna and Marilyn