Endangered Right Whales Must Find New Feeding Grounds Thanks To Changing Climate

A warming ocean is leading the highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whales to seek new foraging grounds.

Amy Knowlton pilots the 29-foot research vessel Nereid out of Lubec harbor and into the waters of the Bay of Fundy, off of easternmost Maine. A scientist with the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life Knowlton points to harbor porpoises chasing fish in the wind-swept waters on a recent morning.

Then something much larger appears off the stern.

“Whale behind us,” Knowlton says, steering closer. “It’s probably a humpback or fin whale, we’ll get a better look.”

It turns out to be two humpback whales — a cool sighting, but not the kind she is after.

Knowlton is hoping to find the endangered North Atlantic right whales that she and her colleagues have been studying in these waters since 1980.

Right whales are large cetaceans, with big heads and no dorsal fins. Researchers used to count as many as 200 foraging here in late summer. But the whales became scarce starting in 2010, and their range shifted dramatically. Many more are now summering hundreds of miles north, off Canadian shores in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. More than 130 have been spotted there in recent months.

Photo: Moira Brown/New England Aquarium

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