Right whale, calf make rare winter appearance

A North Atlantic right whale and her calf were spotted outside Plymouth Harbor on Saturday, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies said — a sighting so early that one scientist called it “mind blowing.”

“I’ve been studying these waters for 27 consecutive years, and it used to be that April 15 would be when we would first see mothers with calves,” said Charles “Stormy” Mayo, a scientist at the center. “We did have a couple of instances of mothers coming up here really early, in late March, but January is completely unheard of.”

Pregnant right whales typically migrate to the coasts of Georgia and Florida to give birth in December or January before returning to feeding grounds like Cape Cod Bay in mid-April, Mayo said.

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The whale holds special significance for the center, which in 2008 found it entangled in a rope. Crews made several attempts over three years to free the whale, nicknamed Wart, before cutting the rope with a specially designed arrow in 2011.

The center knew it was the same whale because New England Aquarium scientists identified it from aerial photos.

“She was a whale my team and I worked very hard on,” said Scott Landry, director of the center’s entanglement response team. Wart had not been seen since 2011, he said.