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

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