© NOAA/Misty NiemeyerThree North Atlantic right whales are visible at the surface on Jordans Basin. A fourth whale is visible just below the surface at lower left.
A large number of North Atlantic right whales have been seen in the Gulf of Maine in recent days, leading right whale researchers at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center to believe they have identified a wintering ground and potentially a breeding ground for this endangered species.
The NEFSC's aerial survey team saw 44 individual right whales on Dec. 3 in the Jordan Basin area, located about 70 miles south of Bar Harbor, Maine. Weather permitting, the team regularly surveys the waters from Maine to Long Island and offshore 150 miles to the Hague Line (the U.S.-Canadian border), an area about 25,000 square nautical miles.
"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 to five animals are much more common," said Tim Cole, who heads the team. "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."