north atlantic right whale

May 12, 2017 -Race Point beach -Provincetown, MA -taken April 13, 2017

This wide, sweeping beach is at the top of the arm that forms the outer Cape. The view here is looking NE towards the Atlantic ocean. The trip up here was a spontaneous one that my sister and I made back in April. We had been in Sandwich for an appointment, when we decided to make the hour long drive up to Provincetown to look for some of the Right whales that had recently been seen in Cape Cod Bay.

The North Atlantic Right whale is one of the most endagered whales in the world. They are very large baleen whales, growing up to 55’ long and weighing 70 tons. They feed on zooplankton. Their name “right whale” came from them being considered the right whale to hunt at the height of the whaling industry, because they were slow moving, and beacause of the large amount of blubber which tended to make them float after they were killed.

There are only a little over 500 left in the world, and 206 have been seen this year in Cape Cod Bay, a recodr number. Despite their protected status, they haven’t made much of a comneback since the time they were hunted almost to exstiction, and there are concerns that they could still become extinct. One of the biggest dangers for them is boat strikes. Only three calves arrived with the pod this year, and already one has died from what looks like a boat strile.

The Right whales come in close to shore to feed so they are more easily seen from land than other whales. On the day we were there, we didn’t see any unfortunately, although were told by others that just the day before a group of 10 were feeding only 50’ from the the shore line in this pic.

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May 16, 2017 - Herring Cove Beach - the Race Point lighthouse in the distance - Provincetown, MA -taken April 13, 2017

Many North Atlantic Right whales had been seen along this beach in mid-April, but on this day we sadly didn’t see any, except for some activity too far out to see well even with binoculars

Less than 400 North Atlantic right whales exist in the wild, making it one of the most endangered whales in the world. Its name comes from the idea that is was the “right” whale to hunt: slow moving, floated after death, and had enormous amounts of oil and baleen. Even though commercial whaling was banned in 1935, they are still most threatened by human activities such as entanglement with commercial fishing ropes and gear.

North Atlantic Right Whale

The critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale has calving grounds off the coast of Florida and Georgia—and only 300–400 whales remain in existence. The loss of one individual whale could contribute to the extinction of the species. The species has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1973.

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An Irrational Fear of Mass?

This month I will be returning to Washington, DC to visit the Natural History Museum along with Fords Theater and many other sites, but I wanted to let you all in on a small secret about one of my biggest fears. And I do mean big…

 

When I was younger (not sure the exact age) I remember that my sister would take me down to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I loved it. The minute you walk in you are met with a giant elephant model that demands your attention. But I’m not about to tell you that I’m fearful of a giant stampeding elephant, because that would be a rational fear when compared to my actual fear.

The first time I encountered this big fear was at a time where the “Life in the Sea” exhibit was under repair so much of the area was sectioned off with temporary paneled walls, much like cubicle walls in an office. We were there on a trip and I remember that because classmates were running rampant all over the exhibit with parent chaperones.

As I continued through the hallways of the temporary display I became aware of the fact that there were cracks in the sectional walls that gave a glimpse into what was off limits in the area behind the exhibit. So being a young kid, I peeked through one. There was nothing really to see other than the backside wall of an empty room. I continued down the wall to the next crack and again peered through revealing nothing but the same wall. So again I continued, and the third crack was where I first learned that curiosity can be a cruel character trait.

As I approached, I had no expectations as to what may have been behind the third crack in the wall so I approached it with obnoxious certainty that I would be met with another view of a blank wall in a room of nothing. That was not the case. What lay well within view of the third crack was something that I’m certain has shaped every thought of my large respect and fear of large bodies of dark water. I wasn’t just peering at something, but was being peered back at. What lay behind the section of wall visible through this small crack was the frontal mouth and large eye of a 94 ft long, life-sized model of a Blue Whale.

 

When people ask me about this story and why it has created an irrational fear of blue whales, I can only try to relate the visual of seeing that mammoth beast to the scene from Jurassic Park where the Tyrannosaurus Rex lowers its head next to the SUV’s windows revealing its large yellow eye. They always make sure to mention the idea that the main difference is that the Tyrannosaurus would actually eat you, but tell that to a young kid whose world view of size relationships is blown apart by the site of that whale.

 

Anyways, I know it’s irrational, but it has got me wondering whether I just have an issue with massive objects. I got some of the same feeling being lowered down the side of a massive cruise ship on an island hop trip from the cruise liner we were on to the island of St. Martin in my teens. The mass of the ship was staggering. Not as fearful an experience but compelling nonetheless.

 

I get this same feeling when I research the massive size of objects that exist beyond our orbit. Things such as the fact that Jupiter’s red spot (a 300 year old gigantic super storm) could contain the width and height of two full Earth sized planets. Then zoom out and try to grasp the relation of the red spot to the gas giant’s overall size (11 times the diameter of Earth). A ping pong ball versus a basketball. It’s fascinating to me at least. I can only imagine how my body and anxiety would react to being next to that.

 

I figured I’d tell this tale because the Smithsonian has since dismantled the old beast and has now replaced it with a hanging 74 ft. North Atlantic Right Whale. A friend made me aware of it being installed recently and so I guess now I have to attempt to meet a new arch-villain of my irrational fear of blue whales. Though so far no other whale has had this effect on me. Wish me luck!

The first mention of Basque whaling was made in 1059, when it was said to have been practiced at the Basque town of Bayonne. The fishery spread to what is now the Spanish Basque Country in 1150, when King Sancho the Wise of Navarre granted petitions for the warehousing of such commodities as whalebone (baleen). At first, they only hunted the whale they called sarda, or the North Atlantic Right Whale, using watchtowers (known as vigias) to look for their distinctive twin vapour spouts. By the 14th century they were making “seasonal trips” to the English Channel and southern Ireland. 

image: Right whale by Michelle

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Extant cetaceans exhibit hyperphalangy, a condition where the finger have an increased number of bones. The first digit, however,has a reduced number of bones (so hypophalangy) and is actually absent in several baleen whales; only Pilot Whales have hyperphalangy on this digit. The fifth digit generally has the ancestral number of bones for baleen whales but toothed whales typically have reduction; Kogia is an exception with hyperphalangy. In toothed whales, the second and third digits have the most number of bones whereas in baleen whales it is the third and fourth digits.

First Image: (A) Orca, (B) Sperm Whale, © North Atlantic Right Whale, (D) Humpback Whale, (E) Ichthyosaur (Stenopterygius sp.)

Second Image: (A) Orca, (B) North Atlantic Right Whale, © Sei Whale

Cooper, L. et al. (2007) Evolution of Hyperphalangy and Digit Reduction in the Cetacean Manus. The Anatomical Record 290 654–672

Photo by @BrianSkerry
A 45 foot long, 70 ton Southern Right Whale hovers gracefully over the sandy sea floor in New Zealand’s Auckland Islands (sub Antarctic). Their cousins, the North Atlantic Right Whales, are the most endangered whale on Earth and though the Southern Rights are also endangered, their populations have increased better (since the whaling days) due to the fact they they live further away from industrialization and are less likely to be hit by ships or entangled in fishing gear.
Photographed #onassignment for @natgeo.
@thephotosociety #whales #rightwhales #newzealand #endangered #underwater
_________________________________________ by natgeo

This close-up photo of a right whale’s head shows dozens of hitchhikers—tiny crustaceans known as whale lice, or cyamid amphipods. They live on the rough patches of skin (known as callosities) on North Atlantic right whales, eating algae that settles there and only causing minor skin damage. Distinctive patterns formed by their white bodies crowding around rough patches on whales’ skin help researchers tell one right whale from another!

  • photo Michael Moore /WHOI