- Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
- Department of Fish and Game
- Division of Marine Fisheries
Media Contact for State Officials Caution Boaters about Risk of Collision with Mother and Calf Right Whales in Cape Cod Bay
Boston — The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is cautioning boaters about the serious risk of vessel collision with a group of North Atlantic right whale mother and calf pairs that were recently observed in western Cape Cod Bay.
On April 21, 2016, the Center for Coastal Studies aerial survey team documented 5 right whale mother/calf pairs between Plymouth and Sandwich approximately 2 miles from shore. The mothers were subsurface feeding on dense patches of zooplankton with calves nearby. Given their behavior and the proximity to vessel traffic, the situation presents a high risk of vessel collision to a sensitive and important segment of the right whale population. Based on zooplankton sampling in area, conditions are favorable for the food resource to prevail for several more days. For the safety of both mariners and whales, vessel operators in this area are strongly urged to proceed with caution, reduce speed (less than 10 knots), and post lookouts to avoid colliding with these highly endangered whales.
Federal law prohibits vessels greater than 65 feet in length from exceeding speeds of 10 knots in Cape Cod Bay during this time of year; however right whales are still vulnerable to collision with smaller vessels.
Under state and federal law, vessels are prohibited by from approaching within 500 yards of a right whale. Massachusetts Environmental Police and U.S. Coast Guard are authorized to enforce the 500- yard rule. Vessels that find themselves within 500 yards of a right whale should slowly and cautiously exit the area.
Vessel traffic is expected to increase in this area over the next few weeks with seasonal increases in recreational and commercial fishing, as well as whale watching, and passenger ship activity. Right whales are the most endangered large whale in the North Atlantic, with a population of approximately 550 animals.
Management of maritime activities near right whales is part of DMF’s Right Whale Conservation Program, a cooperative effort among DMF, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service to study and protect right whales in Cape Cod Bay. Federal funding for the program comes from the National Marine Fisheries Service and state funding comes from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) issues notices to mariners via the Northern Right Whale Sighting Advisory System (SAS). Participating agencies in the SAS include MarineFisheries and the Massachusetts Environmental Police, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), CCS, and other research groups. Advisories can be viewed at the NOAA Fisheries Northeast Region web site (http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/psb/surveys/) and are broadcast over NOAA weather radio (http:// 126.96.36.199/nwr/).
For more information, visit DMF’s website or contact Erin Burke (Erin.Burke@state.ma.us, 919-824-3114) or Dan McKiernan (firstname.lastname@example.org, 617 626-1536). Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies right whale researcher Dr. Charles (Stormy) Mayo can be reached at (508) 487-3623.