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Jennifer Kennedy

Scientists Search for Mysterious Right Whale Breeding Ground

By November 16, 2010

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Right whale with calf / NOAA imageThe North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered large whale species, with only about 425-450 remaining worldwide. Like other large baleen whales, the right whale spends its summers feeding in cold waters, and at least some of the whales spend their winters breeding in warm waters off the southeastern U.S.

Only about 1/4 of the whales, mostly females and their young, are observed down south each winter.  So where are the rest? In 2008, researchers doing aerial surveys saw large congregations of 40+ right whales in Jordan Basin, which is about 70 miles south of Bar Harbor, Maine, and figured that the area might be a new breeding ground for the whales. Right whales are critically endangered, and extremely susceptible to ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear, so knowing where they are is important.

Scientists are heading out again this fall/winter to see if Jordan Basin is the "missing" breeding ground for the whales. Researchers from  the New England Aquarium in Boston, Allied Whale in Bar Harbor, Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Canadian Whale Institute in New Brunswick are heading to Jordan Basin on 4 cruises aboard a 112-foot whale watch boat to investigate the area.

Sean Todd, director of whale research at Allied Whale, said in a news article: "This is really quite amazing. That the unknown right whale mating ground might be right in our backyard. This is kind of like a Holy Grail for whale science."

It's amazing - an animal that gets up to 60 feet long, and we still don't know where they all go in the winter. Hopefully the weather and seas will be cooperative in the coming months and we'll know more by the end of the winter.

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Image: NOAA

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