At least 160 huge Atlantic right whales, representing more than 40 percent of the entire Atlantic right whale population, were spotted in Cape Cod Bay last week. There were so many that the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries urged boaters to travel at speeds of 10 knots or less in the area until May 15.
The migratory whales were spotted from the air by the Center for Coastal Studies as they were skim feeding on, or just below, the surface of the water. That feeding pattern means they are often not aware of their surroundings and they might not see a nearby boat.
An endangered species, Atlantic right whales can grow up to 60 feet long (the largest ever recorded was 65 feet long), and weigh about 100 tons. They generally stay close to peninsulas and bays near the continental shelf, where they find their preferred food. They are generally docile in nature, and they got their name from whalers who identified them as the “right” ones to kill because of their high blubber content.
The Coast Guard says that “right whales are slow moving and at risk of serious injury or death due to collisions with vessels.” It says that “intentionally approaching within 500 yards of right whales is a violation of U.S. law. A minimum distance of 500 yards must be maintained from a sighted whale unless hazardous to the vessel or its occupants.”
In an effort to reduce the number of whales killed or injured by boats, the Coast Guard often broadcasts right whale advisories. They report sightings and provide guidance about how to avoid collisions. Read more: