Learning to Eat Plankton

This year, right whales began feeding in large numbers earlier than usual in Cape Cod Bay (CCB) (late March), but also began departing earlier than usual (mid-April). According to Center for Coastal Studies (CCS), the food resource was of high quality until strong winds and storms in early April brought in plankton-poor water, which mixed to reduce the quality of the food.

The number of right whales in CCB drastically reduced after this mixing event, though five mother-and-calf pairs and a handful of other individuals hung around for a while and took advantage of feeding opportunities in the southern portion of the bay. A few of the calves were observed learning how to feed on plankton, which is quite a transition from nursing—and it showed, much to our amusement.

right whale skim feeding

Harmony skim feeds while her calf tries to do the same.  Photo: Marianna Hagbloom, NEFSC/NEAq under NOAA research permit #17355-1. 

So, where did the whales go after leaving CCB? As it turns out, they didn’t go all that far. An aerial survey by CCS showed a right whale presence just to the east of Cape Cod, and the NEFSC surveys in GSC confirmed their presence there as well (as this was posted, right whales are still present there). A huge stir was caused by a few right whales feeding close to the shore of Nahant, MA, (north of Boston) in the third week of April. If you want to see where the most recent (or older) sightings are, check out the Sightings Advisory System.

Mother and calf right whale
Open wide! No, wider! Photo: Marianna Hagbloom, NEFSC/NEAq under NOAA research permit #17355-1.