Another Mystery Mom!

2017 has been a very low calving year for the North Atlantic right whale population. Only 3 calves were documented in the Southeast U.S. calving grounds – the lowest number on record since 2000, when only one calf was sighted. In the intervening years, calving numbers have fluctuated, but on the whole have been lower than right whale researchers would like to see for the recovery of such a critically endangered species.

On April 12, both the Center for Coastal Studies and NEFSC aerial surveys documented a new mom & calf pair for the season, bringing the calf total for 2017 up to 4. While a sighting of new mom & calf pairs outside of the calving grounds is not unheard of, it is not common. So we were very excited Sunday (April 30) when we realized that we had found yet another new mom & calf pair for 2017! I tentatively identified the whale as catalog #1515 while still in the air, but researchers at the New England Aquarium, which houses and manages the North Atlantic right whale catalog, confirmed my identification on Monday morning. The new mom and calf were sighted feeding in the Great South Channel.


New right whale mom identified as #1515. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries, Tim Cole, NEFSC

#1515 has not been seen since 2009 (also with a calf), so she had been presumed dead by the New England Aquarium. She has been sighted infrequently since 1985 and usually only down on the Southeast U.S. calving grounds, so, much like our other recent mom/calf sighting of 1412, we do not know where she spends the majority of her time. Another mystery mom!


Calf of right whale #1515. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Tim Cole, NEFSC

Images taken under MMPA research permit #17355 by Tim Cole, NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

Allison Henry
NEFSC Aerial Survey Team

Sighting an Entangled Humpback

The NEFSC aerial survey group flew more than five hours May 14 to survey Cashes Ledge.  The team sighted an entangled humpback on the first line of the survey, reported it, and and stayed on station until a disentanglement team from the Center for Coastal Studies arrived on the scene. This is the third time the whale, an adult female named Spinnaker, has had an assisted disentanglement.  As Leah Crowe of the aerial team noted, she “is very lucky that all the pieces – area surveyed, people and weather – fell into place to free her.”

entangled humpabck with boat nearby

Entangled humpback whale named Spinnaker sighted by the NEFSC aerial survey group May 14. A disentanglement team stands by.  Heavy fishing gear is puling the whale down,  with a yellow float visible to the right of the whale. Photo by Leah Crowe, NEFSC/NOAA taken under MMPA research permit # 17355.

Shadow of NOAA Twin Otter on surface near Spinnaker

The shadow of the NOAA Twin Otter with the aerial survey team appears on the ocean surface next to Spinnaker. Photo by Leah Crowe, NEFSC/NOAA taken under MMPA research permit # 17355.

close-up of whale trailing float

Closer view of Spinnaker trailing fishing line and a float. Photo by Leah Crowe, NEFSC/NOAA taken under MMPA research permit # 17355.

A second humpback whale, along with 7 fin whales, 8 sei whales, 3 minke whales, 5 harbor porpoise and 3 basking sharks were sighted, along with 4 North Atlantic right whales.

The NEFSC Survey Group