Skip to content
All articles
  • All articles
  • About whales & dolphins
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Scottish Dolphin Centre
  • Stop whaling

Shameful whale experiments in Norway – what we know and why they must stop

As football fans settle down to enjoy a beer, a barbeque and the opening games...

One world ocean – why we need to think globally and act locally

On World Ocean(s) Day let's remember that there is only one ocean on our world....

Whale culture and conservation: to infinity and beyond …

In 1977, the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft launched, carrying with them the song of...
The young whale is attended by BDMLR medics and ZSL vets © Julia Cable/BDMLR

A sad end for the young Thames minke whale – what do we know?

It's such a special and, for most of us, rare experience to see a whale...
Image by Cyan Planet

UPDATE – A (virtual) dolphin experience like no other

How is the Water is a Virtual Reality video game and the ultimate ocean experience....
Image: Peter Rowlands/Greenpeace

Supertrawlers or static nets – what is killing all the dolphins? Why we need to see the whole picture

You've probably come across 'supertrawlers' in the news or in the film Seaspiracy which has...

Why Norwegian minke whaling is cruel, shameful and pointless

If you're a fan of the quiz show, Pointless, you'll be familiar with its format...
Captive dolphins perform for cruise passengers at the Costa Maya Resort, Mexico

Tourist hotspots to roadside zoos – investigating the many faces of dolphin captivity in Latin America and the Caribbean

It's the paradise dream - a bright blue sea against a backdrop of palm trees,...

Saving North Atlantic right whale habitats means saving the whales

PART 1

Over the years, I have watched North Atlantic right whales skim along the surface feeding on copepods, nudge each other in what seemed like play, and charge toward an inverted female attempting to mate.

All of these things happen in relatively predictable places and times of year.  Right whale habitats.

 I’ll never forget sailing out on a rainy summer day off southern Nova Scotia. Seas were choppy, and we’d resigned ourselves to a fog wetter than rain. Yet, after 5 or 6 hours of steady sailing straight out into the open sea, the sun came out, the sea calmed and we were suddenly in the midst of 30 right whales. This was Roseway Basin, a courtship area favored by the whales, which was in the middle of nowhere as far as I could determine. As we watched the whales play their courtship games, I was struck by the precision of the skipper’s knowledge about where the whales were found.

Right whales and other baleen whales travel the oceans, migrating thousands of miles every year. Yet like humpback, gray and some of the other better studied baleen whales, they travel along similar routes and return to some of the same habitats year after year, some of which we are still discovering. These specific areas are special to the whales for one reason or another.

In the cold, temperate waters of New England and the Bay of Fundy, such areas are where whales find dense patches of copepods and other food. By contrast, in the warm waters off the Southeast U.S., the habitat seems to be defined by water temperature and depth related to the best conditions for raising a newborn calf.

Still, as much as we can predict the location of certain habitats, the locations of portions of the population remain mysterious at any one time. We have to keep refining our knowledge of what constitutes a good habitat.

Right whales have large habitats as befits a large, highly mobile creature.  Compared to land, habitats in the sea for most species tend to be much larger, more fluid, with a certain amount of variation from year to year. But they are still definable and protecting these “homes for whales” is critical for their survival as well as a matter of legal responsibility in the U.S. and Canada with legislation that dictates a response when a species is endangered. The governments must try to locate and protect the troubled species’ critical habitat and follow up with a recovery plan.

Stay tuned for Part II next week!

About Erich Hoyt

Erich is a Research Fellow at WDC and Co-chair of the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force. He is a director of the Far East Russian Orca Project (FEROP). View references to Erich's published material on Google Scholar. Follow Erich on Twitter.