A bowhead whale was spotted in March in the waters east of Orleans on Cape Cod, the furthest south the species has ever been sighted, researchers said today.
The juvenile bowhead was approximately 43 feet long and was found with a group of mostly young North Atlantic right whales, the first documented interaction between the two whale species, said Cathrine Macort, executive assistant at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.
Last week, researchers at the New England Aquarium reported seeing a bowhead whale in the Bay of Fundy. That’s typically as far south as these whales travel, Macort said. Photographs indicate that it is the same bowhead that was spotted near Orleans.
Bowhead whales typically inhabit the Arctic Ocean and far northern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They can remain underwater for up to 35 minutes, swimming long distances beneath the Arctic pack ice, using their large skulls to push through sea ice and create breathing holes, Macort said.
The researchers said in a statement that climate change and changes in sea ice played a role in the whale’s wanderings. It wasn’t immediately clear how those led the whale on its southern sojourn.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, bowheads mostly feed on zooplankton, and can grow up to 40 feet long and weigh up to 100 tons.
Macort said the group would have announced the sighting sooner, but they had submitted a paper on it to a scholarly journal and were not allowed to discuss it until now.