Whale skull to be used for teaching

An Atlantic right whale skull drying on Cape Pogue. The Trustees of the Reservations plan to use the skull of the critically endangered marine mammal as an educational tool. — Gabrielle Mannino

The skull of a North Atlantic right whale that washed ashore on Norton Point last year is drying just over the dunes past the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick. The Trustees of Reservations plan to use the skull as an educational tool once the oil leaches out from the whalebone.

“Not sure if it will be displayed at Long Point, Chappy, or Vineyard Haven, but all whale bones take a while to ‘age,’ as they exude oil profusely for the first year or so (the black coloration is evidence of the oil coming out of the bone),” Trustees stewardship manager Chris Kennedy wrote in an email. “This particular skull is aging in a spot where the public can see it (we have secured it in place so that it won’t ‘walk off’).”

Right whales have become few in number. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts that number at about 430. “We’re very concerned we only have [just] over a hundred breeding females in the stock right now,” Jennifer Goebel, NOAA spokesman, said.

This year two right whales have been confirmed dead, while last year 17 died, 12 in Canadian waters.

Ship strikes and gear entanglement are major threats to Atlantic right whales. “For many we don’t have a definitive cause of death,” Goebel said.

Canada revamped its regulations — closed some fishing areas when whales were spotted in them, and changed ship speed rules, among other changes. “And as a result we didn’t see any mortalties this year [in Canada],” Goebel said.

NOAA is presently reviewing its own policies regarding the whales, she said.

Only the North Pacific right whale and the Bryde’s whale are more endangered than the North Atlantic right whale, she said. The whales come to New England to feed.

Copepods, a type of zooplankton, are what’s on the menu. A particular favorite of the North Atlantic right whale is calanus, she noted, a tiny creature that looks like cross between a flea and a shrimp.

Mariners must keep 500 yards distance from right whales at all times. Photography is permissible at that distance, Goebel said, and does not require a permit.

Mariners who spot North Atlantic right whales are encouraged to inform the Coast Guard or call NOAA’s hotline, 866-755-6622.