Finding Whales by Following their Food

Tuesday May 2, 2023, Buzzards Bay

The first presentation of the second leg of the SEA Sailing Symposium on North Atlantic Right Whales came as the SSV Corwith Cramer sailed out of Long Island Sound and began working around Block Island toward the Cape Cod Canal. Dr. Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, from the University of South Carolina’s School of Earth, Ocean, and the Environment, talked about her career trajectory and the specifics of her research on North Atlantic right whales. Noting that conservation measures are only effective if they are enacted in areas where right whales spend time, Meyer-Gutbrod explained how a part of her research offers an effective way to predict right whale location by tracking their favorite food, the copepod Calanus finmarchicus.

This copepod is both the right size to filter with the right whales’ baleen and highly caloric with its abundant lipids. In recent years, these favored copepods have been more abundant in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in Canada, rather than in the Gulf of Maine, a traditional feeding ground for this critically endangered marine mammal. The right whales have also shifted to this more northerly location, exposing them to ship strikes and entanglements in areas that they had not previously frequented and where protections had not been enacted.

You can learn more about Meyer-Gutbrod’s research and how she is applying it to right whale conservation by listening to the recording of her presentation that will be available later this month.

Craig Marin, Marine Environmental History

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