January 1, 2009

Endangered Whales Spotted In Gulf Of Maine

A new breeding ground for endangered whales seems to have emerged in the Gulf of Maine this week.

The aerial survey, which found 44 right whales, may help in coordinating efforts to protect them.

In the past two centuries, whales have been hunted nearly into extinction according to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We're excited because seeing 44 right whales together in the Gulf of Maine is a record for the winter months, when daily observations of three or five animals are much more common," said Tim Cole, who heads the team at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

"Right whales are baleen whales, and in the winter spend a lot of time diving for food deep in the water column. Seeing so many of them at the surface when we are flying over an area is a bit of luck."

Experts say baleen whales use their massive mouths the filter small plants and creatures for food.

Female North Atlantic right whales head south to Florida and Georgia to give birth in the winter, but scientists don't know where they stay in winter.

Only 325 of the giant mammals are known to be alive.

"Because only about 100 right whales, mostly females and their calves, are sighted each year in aerial surveys off the southeast coast, we know the remainder of the population must be somewhere else. We don't know much about where these other whales spend the winter or breed, but we have recently started to look in the Gulf of Maine in winter," wrote NOAA'S Pete Duley.

During 1968, the world imposed a moratorium on all whale hunts after many species were driven toward extinction by decades of exploitation for meat, oil and whalebone.

The U.S. government has implemented new speed rules for large ships to stop them from injuring whales because boats and fishing lines still pose a big danger for the animals.


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