A NOAA marine mammal aerial survey team based at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center's laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., has sighted nearly 100 endangered North Atlantic right whales feeding in Rhode Island Sound, the largest group ever documented in those waters.
“It all started with a flukeprint,” said Pete Duley, whale researcher at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center who was on the team that spotted the whales on April 20.
A “flukeprint” is the whale equivalent of a footprint. It appears on the water’s surface when a whale dives and when just underwater flexes its tail, or fluke, upward to help propel itself deeper. This creates a smooth patch of water on the surface that looks somewhat like an oil slick, and to whale spotters is one of the telltale signs whales are present.
“We circled over the fluke print and found not one, but 38 feeding right whales, the largest group we saw all day,” said Duley.
And it was just the beginning. “We expected to spend a couple of hours and perhaps see an animal or two,” said Allison Glass, another NOAA whale researcher that was part of the team. “Instead, we flew for 6 hours and counted 98, including a mother-calf pair.”