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98 right whales spotted off R.I. coast
Scientists say animals were drawn by a large supply of food
A North Atlantic right whale and her calf (submerged at left) swam off the coast of Rhode Island. The sighting of the 98 whales set a record. (Pete Duley/Noaa via Associated Press)
By Carolyn Y. Johnson Globe Staff / April 24, 2010
A circular patch of smooth water spotted in Rhode Island Sound this week led scientists to a surprising discovery: a quarter of the entire North Atlantic right whale population is hanging out and feeding in a spot where the endangered animals are not usually seen.
That tell-tale patch of water — a “flukeprint’’ generated when a whale pumps its tail up and down as it dives, roiling the surface in a distinctive way — led researchers doing an aerial survey to circle their plane to find a large cluster of whales in an unexpected location. In total, researchers found 98 whales in the waters east of Block Island, including two pairs of mothers and calves.
“It is really quite a bit higher [number of whales] than you find, even in places where you expect to find them,’’ said Charles “Stormy’’ Mayo, senior scientist at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. Recently in Cape Cod Bay, where the whales regularly migrate to feed, “the highest numbers we’ve had have been over 70, and we thought that was mind-blowing.’’
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