Unusually Large Number of Whales Spotted, Including Multiple Endangered Species, off Northeast U.S. Coasts

Unusually Large Number of Whales Spotted, Including Multiple Endangered Species, off Northeast U.S. Coasts



The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported 161 sightings of whales last month, representing seven different whale species.

The sightings, recorded on May 25, took place off the northeastern U.S. Coasts, near Martha’s Vineyard and southeast of Nantucket. According to NOAA, the sightings included an unusually high number of whale species, particularly endangered whales.

The sightings don’t necessarily mean there were 161 individual whales, since some may have been counted multiple times, The Associated Press reported.

But the recorded whale sightings were still a positive sign, especially considering the high numbers of endangered species observed.

The researchers observed 93 sei whales, which are considered endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

As stated on the NOAA website, sei whales experienced major declines in the 19th and 20th centuries, when around 300,000 of these whales were hunted.

This was one of the highest recorded concentrations of sei whales, The Associated Press reported.

 

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Teri Frady, chief of research communications for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center under NOAA, said that seeing so many whales in this area around this time of year is not unheard of, but the researchers did not expect to find such a large number in one area at once, especially with such a variety of species.

“It is not unusual that there are a lot of whales in the area this time of year. But since we do not survey every day, or in the same areas every time we fly, catching such a large aggregation with such a variety of species on one of our flights is the exception rather than the rule,” Frady explained, as reported by The Associated Press.

In addition to the sei whales, researchers noted three sightings of the North Atlantic right whale, another endangered species, humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, sperm whales and the rare sightings of two orcas, which are not as common in this area. One orca was observed with a tuna in its mouth.

Gib Brogan, campaign director at Oceana, told The Associated Press that the area where the whales were observed is “increasingly important as year-round core habitat for North Atlantic right whales and other large whale species,” but that it remains a risky place for whales. Brogan noted the U.S. needs to finalize legal protections to minimize risks of vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglements, two of the biggest threats to whales in the region.

The sightings in May follow the rare observations of a gray whale off the northeastern U.S. in March by the New England Aquarium. New England Aquarium researchers observed a gray whale, a species that has been considered extinct in the Atlantic Ocean for more than two centuries, off the New England coast in an aerial survey. The rare gray whale sighting may be attributed to the species’ adaptation to climate change, scientists said.

This article by Paige Bennett was first published by EcoWatch on 14 June 2024. Lead Image: Humpback whales off the New England coast on May 25, 2024. NOAA.

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