First North Atlantic right whale mother and calf of season observed near Cape Cod Bay

Observers from the Center for Coastal Studies made an exciting discovery just north of Marshfield, MA Monday: a North Atlantic right whale mother swimming alongside her calf. This sighting marks the first appearance of a right whale calf in Massachusetts waters for the 2024 season.

The mother whale was identified as Legato (EgNo 1802), a 36-year-old offspring of Staccato (EgNo 1014). Legato gave birth to her calf in December, and the duo was initially spotted together by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in Florida on New Year’s Eve.

Ryan Schosberg, an Aerial Observer and right whale researcher at the Center for Coastal Studies, recounted the thrilling moment: “We were wrapping up a survey when we spotted a right whale feeding near North Marshfield’s shores. As we approached for documentation, we were overjoyed to see a calf alongside! Witnessing right whale mothers and calves safely arriving in Cape Cod Bay always fills us with relief.”

North Atlantic right whales typically calve off the southeast U.S. coast during winter before migrating northward to New England and Canadian feeding areas. Cape Cod Bay has become renowned for hosting one of the largest gatherings of right whales during winter and early spring over the past decade. This season, researchers have already identified 123 individual right whales in the bay.

This sighting underscores Cape Cod Bay’s significance as a critical nursery for North Atlantic right whales. Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, Director of the Center’s Right Whale Ecology Program, emphasized that mother-calf pairs are frequently observed in the bay during April and May. After a challenging migration through rough seas, mothers nurse their calves until reaching the nutrient-rich waters around Cape Cod.

“Cape Cod Bay provides a vital refuge for right whale mothers and their calves. The protected, tranquil waters and abundant food resources are undoubtedly a relief for them, explaining why they linger here for days or even weeks,” Mayo explained.

The arrival of right whale mothers and calves in Cape Cod Bay is a hopeful sign, given the species’ critically endangered status, with fewer than 360 individuals estimated in the population.

This is Legato’s fifth documented calf. Previous offspring include a male born in 2003 (last seen in 2011), a female born in 2006 (deceased in calving grounds), Portato, a female born in 2008 (last seen in Cape Cod Bay in 2022), and a male born in 2011 (frequently sighted in Cape Cod Bay this winter).




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