PORTLAND, Maine - Federal fishing regulators say researchers have identified 61 critically-endangered right whales in Cape Cod Bay, including four mothers with calves.
NOAA Fisheries officials say the whales were spotted in the past two weeks through aerial surveys. The agency is asking boaters and fishermen to keep an eye out for the whales and go slow in the area. There's already been one report of a possible whale/boat collision near the western shore of the bay.
The group of right whales currently in Cape Cod Bay represents a significant percentage of the whale's entire world population, which numbers only about 500. NOAA regulations require boats at least 65 feet in length to travel at 10 knots or less in Cape Cod Bay and off Race Point to avoid collisions with the North Atlantic right whale, and NOAA is asking all vessels, recreational and commercial, to voluntarily comply with the restrictions.
Right whales don't have a dorsal fin and feed just below the surface of the water, so they're hard for boaters to see even at close range, officials say.
A majority of the North Atlantic right whale population moves up the East Coast to feed each year at about this time, along with humpback, fin and minke whales. In winter, the whales head south again to Georgia and Florida, where they give birth.
The population of the North Atlantic right whale numbers only about 400. They are listed as endangered, and striking one can result in civil and criminal penalties. officials say.