Between early summer and mid-autumn, New Englanders benefit from both the beautiful weather and prime boating conditions that accompany the time of year. Warmer summer weather means more boats on the water, and with more boats on the water, there comes more risk of run-ins with marine organisms.
Last month, a young humpback whale breached the surface of the water and flew onto a fishing boat off the coast of Cape Cod Bay in Plymouth. This recorded instance caused Massachusetts state officials, in conjunction with NOAA, to issue a statement urging boaters to stay more than 100 yards away from whales in order to prevent further accidents.
Juvenile whales like the one in Plymouth require particular restrictions in order to prevent head-on collisions. In response to this incident, the Mass Environmental Police, Plymouth Harbormaster, and NOAA’s law enforcement office increased patrols to ensure that boaters keep a safe distance from whales if spotted, slowing down or cutting engines if they see a spout, breach, or tail.
The main reason for these increased whale encounters, or run-ins, is the season. During the summer months, humpback whales settle in off the Massachusetts coastline and begin their feeding period. Whales typically migrate from warmer, shallower waters where they
spend time breeding and raising offspring during winter months, to cooler northern waters where they feed during summer months. Cape Cod Bay, and the biologically diverse Massachusetts coastline, provide perfect feeding grounds for humpbacks, doubling as ideal fishing spots for commercial and recreational fishermen.
Humpback whales can feed for up to 18 hours per day during the summer months, each individual consuming roughly 3,000 pounds of fish per day. While feeding, humpbacks enact what is called a “bubble feeding” technique, meaning that they blow bubbles around schools of fish, disorienting them and thus making them easier to consume. Fishermen, both recreational and commercial, also net portions of these same populations of fish. This greatly increases their likelihood of crossing paths with feeding whales.
Following guidelines enforced by local authorities and keeping a close eye out for signs of whale activity near the surface can help curb future run-ins between whales and boaters. Preventing these encounters helps keep both the whales and the boaters safe, allowing for a healthy and mutualistic observation of these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat.
Yablonski, S. 7 August 2022. Boaters warned to stay away from whales after sightings off the Massachusetts coast, Boston. Fox Weather. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from https://www.foxweather.com/earth-space/whales-boston-massachsetts-boaters-plymouth-whale-s mashes-boat-video
7 Seas Whale Watch. 2021. Humpback Whale. Retrieved September 5 2022, from, https://www.7seaswhalewatch.com/whales-marine-wildlife/humpback-whales/