Over 160 Whale Sightings, Including Endangered Species, Recorded Off New England Coast In One Day

Over 160 Whale Sightings, Including Endangered Species, Recorded Off New England Coast In One Day

On a recent aerial survey off the New England coast, researchers from NOAA Fisheries made 161 whale sightings in a single day, a vast proportion of which were of the rare and endangered sei whale.

The flight took place on May 25 and saw the team cover an area south of Martha’s Vineyard and southeast of Nantucket. Throughout the survey, they spotted seven different whale species among the 161 sightings. 

Some of those observations may have been multiples of the same whale, but Teri Frady, chief of research communications for the NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, told AP that the team had reported “a lot of whales”.

“It is not unusual that there are a lot of whales in the area this time of year,” said Frady. “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.”

The sightings included humpback, fin, minke, and sperm whales, but also a pair of orcas that came with something of a surprise – one was holding on to a tuna. The large fish isn’t exactly an unusual snack for orcas – they might even be attacking fishing boats in search of it – but it’s apparently uncommon to make a sighting like this.

Two species of endangered whales were also spotted during the survey. Of the smaller number of sightings was the North Atlantic right whale, at just 3 observations. It’s estimated that only around 360 individuals remain, a figure that hasn’t been helped by an “unusual mortality event” that only ended this year.

The other endangered species observed was the sei whale.

Sei whales are the third-largest whale species after blue and fin whales, with adult females reaching up to 18 meters in length and a whopping 45,000 kilograms in weight. Through persistent commercial whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries, an estimated 300,000 sei whales were killed and as a result, the species is currently listed as endangered by the IUCN.

On this occasion, however, sei whales made up the majority of the sightings. The team made 93 sei whale observations, reported to be one of the highest concentrations they had ever witnessed during a single survey flight.

It’s not just New England with whale news this week, although the announcement that came from Iceland this week was rather more somber. Whaling is set to continue in its seas, with the government declaring that the country’s last remaining whaling company will be issued with a license.

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