Right Whale Habitat in the Western Gulf of Maine


Mark Baumgartner and Peter Wiebe, Biology Department, WHOI

Awarded:  Sept 2004

North Atlantic right whales are one of the best studied baleen whales, yet we still have little information on the factors that govern their distribution.  Their movements during the spring, summer and fall are thought to be primarily motivated by feeding.  Right whales feed on the 2-3 mm long copepod, Calanus finmarchicus, and they must find very dense patches of these prey to survive.  The abundance of C. finmarchicus and their horizontal and vertical distribution are governed by oceanographic features and processes, so it is likely that right whale distribution is influenced by these same features and processes.  There are efforts underway to understand the physical and biological oceanography of the Gulf of Maine and Scotian Shelf (the right whale feeding grounds) in sufficient detail to make forecasts of ocean conditions and biological structure.  To integrate right whales into these larger predictive efforts, we must know a great deal more about the oceanographic factors that influence right whale distribution.  The promise of a system with which right whale distribution can be predicted is improved conservation through management action and ultimately mitigation of human-caused mortality.