Posted on February 3, 2023
North Atlantic right whales got their name originally from being the “right whale to hunt”. With commercial whaling in the United States long over, the right whale is now known as the “urban whale.” That is because it’s range is along the east coasts of Canada and the United States, and their feeding grounds, calving grounds, and migration routes intersect with some of the busiest shipping ports in the world, major fishing areas, military training areas, wind energy areas, and other human activities.
This, of course, can often mean right whales can end up in dangerous locations as they try to live their lives in this “urban ocean”.
On 18 January 2023, HDR sighted a yearling right whale near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, between the two islands that support the first section of tunnel. This area is the major shipping channel that leads into the Chesapeake Bay, serving the two major ports of Norfolk and Baltimore. Although North Atlantic right whales commonly migrate along the coast in relatively shallow shelf waters, this particular individual was unusually close to shore and in an area that put it at significant risk of being struck by a vessel – one of the leading causes of mortality for right whales. This sighting was just inside the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and therefore outside the boundary of the Seasonal Management Area for ship speed reductions (an area where ships that are 65 feet or greater must travel at or below 10 knots). Our team quickly alerted the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Coast Guard who issued a Notice to Mariners alerting all vessels to use caution when traveling through the area.
For more information on the efforts to learn more about right whales in the Mid-Atlantic, check out the project profile here.