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Fewer right whales seen, counted in Gulf Maine
Rather than the dozens that are sometimes seen in the gulf in November, only a single right whale was seen during aerial surveys this fall, said Tim Cole, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"November is usually a good time to find right whales in the Gulf of Maine," Cole said. "Typically, the gulf is very important to them."
This year, some apparently have moved earlier than usual to Cape Cod Bay and the outer shores of Cape Cod, an integral part of their yearly movements, said Charles "Stormy" Mayo, a marine biologist with the Center for Coastal Studies, which has been monitoring right whales continuously for 30 years.
Marine biologists speculate that ocean conditions have changed in the parts of the North Atlantic Basin - an area including the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico - where right whales have typically found adequate food at this time of year.Cole said the whales probably have gone out into deeper, colder waters or to other areas where copepods - tiny crustaceans that feed on microscopic plankton and phytoplankton, at the base of the food chain - are thriving.
"That change (in the whales' habitat) could be the result of climate change," Mayo said. "I don't think that conjecture is wild. I think it's logical."
The right whales' movements are critically important to Maine fisheries, animal advocates, conservationists and commercial interests in New England.
Fixed fishing gear, especially for lobstering, has been a problem for right whales, which get entangled, injured, trapped or even killed, he said, adding that the fate of the species is watched closely.
Because the center's right-whale tracking program off Cape Cod doesn't begin until January, the whale counts and sightings there this fall are the product of casual observations, not a formal study. But the early arrival of whales, in higher numbers, continues a trend that was first observed a few years ago, Mayo said.
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