The state Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) urges mariners to use caution in the coastal waters around Martha’s Vineyard where two pairs of mother and calf right whales are feeding. Right whales are an endangered species with a population estimated between 350 to 400 whales worldwide.
The presence of pairs of mothers and calves is rare and boat operators are urged to use extreme caution while navigating these coastal waters. The whales feed near the surface, which put them at risk for vessel collision. For the safety of both mariners and the whales, vessel operators are strongly urged to reduce speed to less than 10 knots, post lookouts, and proceed with caution to avoid colliding with the whales.
Under federal and state law, mariners are prohibited from approaching the whales within 500 yards. Commercial fishermen are reminded that the approach rule also prohibits them from starting fishing operations (setting or hauling gear) within 500 yards of a right whale.
Survey planes spotted the two right whale mother/calf pairs around Martha’s Vineyard and at least 94 additional right whales feeding to the west and south of Martha’s Vineyard in federal waters, according to an aerial survey conducted this week by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The NOAA marine mammal aerial survey team based at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., sighted nearly 100 endangered North Atlantic right whales feeding in Rhode Island Sound, the largest group ever documented in those waters.
Right whales can weigh up to 70 tons and are as long as 55 feet. Pregnant females travel annually to the coasts of Georgia and Florida to give birth to calves are 10 to 15 feet long and weigh 1.5 tons. Click here for more information about the DMF’s right whale conservation program.