Copious copepods in Cape Cod Bay

Well Jess and I went for another “whirlwind tour” of Cape Cod this past weekend and this time there seemed to be even more whales than before. In fact, the day before we arrived 113 right whales were reported in the Bay, including 5 mother/calf pairs! That is a lot of whales…

Right whales can be found in the Bay all year round but April is usually when we see the highest numbers (Jess and I can now vouch for that). Well what are all of these whales DOING in the Bay you ask? I will tell you! They are eating their preferred prey, tiny little crustaceans called copepods.

A dense swarm of copepods. Photo by J. McCordic

A dense swarm of copepods. Photo: Jess McCordic

In CCB right whales often do something called skim feeding where they open their mouths and swim through swarms of copepods, using their baleen to filter out the water and leave only the tasty little crustacean morsels. The whales do this for hours at a time taking a break now and then only to nod their heads, which may either be them using their tongues to push food back in order to swallow or a general appreciative gesture. Either way, it’s neat.


When right whales skim feed we get to see their baleen and sometimes even the inside of their mouths! Drawing: D. D. Taylor. Photo: Dana Cusano

So Jess, Grace, Pete and I spent Saturday and Sunday amongst a horde of skim feeding right whales, searching for mom’s and calves. They can be difficult to track in the Bay compared to the southeast both because they are much more mobile and because there are often many other whales around. Saturday was pretty straight-forward but this was very much the case on Sunday. When we found our mom/calf pair there were also at least 20 other right whales skim feeding in the area. It can be a ¬†little tricky to collect data in such a situation, but being surrounded by 20+ right whales skim feeding around your boat is definitely one of the coolest ways to spend your day.

Jess and I are back in Syracuse for the moment, but if the whales stay in the Bay and the weather continues to cooperate, we may be back out for more adventures soon! Check back often!

Right whale breaching in the distance. Photo by: D. Cusano

Right whale breaching in the distance. Photo: Dana Cusano

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