Just A Whale? I don’t think so.
Here in WDC’s North American office we always laugh when someone asks us what a typical day is like. The reason we laugh is because on any given day anything can come up, and last week was a perfect example of that. We got a call from the harbormaster here in Plymouth on Wednesday about a sighting of an orphaned North Atlantic right whale calf that’s been seen throughout Cape Cod Bay over the last week. The whale was said to be in approximately 15 feet of water less than 300 yards off the local beach. We immediately alerted authorities and set off to document the sighting. We headed out with equipment in tow but unfortunately were told that we missed all of the action by the time we got there.
What was more upsetting about this experience though was the fact that when we arrived we were greeted by a beach goer who informed us “Don’t worry it, was just a whale, not a shark”. Just a whale?? Now don’t get me wrong, we also think that sharks are awesome. In fact we think they’re so awesome that we’re partnering with a local shark conservation group for a fundraising cruise to go out in search of white sharks along with whales this Saturday (and the following Saturday- tickets are still available!).
But this was not just a whale. This was a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and one of the newest members of the population numbering only around 500 members. It is pretty early in the season still for a calf to be seen independently and researchers throughout the region are concerned about the well-being of this whale. As we stood on the beach continuing to search without luck, other members of our staff were preparing to head out on the boat with NOAA and Massachusetts Department of Fisheries researchers to search from the water. The team was operating under federal permits as is it illegal to approach a North Atlantic right whale within 500 yards. They eventually did locate the whale just a short distance away from the nuclear power plant here in Plymouth. They were upset learn that this poor creature had recently been hit by a boat and had an injury across the back from the boat’s propeller. The whale was very low-profile so they only got a few good looks before they had to call it a day when they started losing daylight, but we are continuing to keep tabs on this young whale and will do everything we can to keep him/her clear from harm’s way.
We have been working tirelessly to help protect these endangered creatures from the threats that they face, including collisions with vessels like this poor calf has already experienced, entanglements in fishing gear, and habitat loss. In just another week we will be celebrating the 10 year anniversary of our inception here in North America. During those 10 years we have accomplished so many great achievements, some of which you can read about in the coming months as we celebrate our anniversary. But it’s also clear to me that we have so much more work to do, as it is sad to me that anyone would be cavalier about seeing a whale, never mind one of the rarest whales on earth. It is a motivating reminder to me about the importance of the education and outreach work we do. With your help, I know we can achieve a world where every whale and dolphin is safe and free, and we no longer hear the phrase “Don’t worry, it’s just a whale”!