Rare Bowhead Whale Sighted in Cape Cod Bay

Bowhead whale skim feeding in Cape Cod Bay. Photo/Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies
Bowhead whale skim feeding in Cape Cod Bay. Photo/Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies

Researchers at the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) have observed a bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) in Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts. This is only the second time in recorded history that a bowhead has been seen so far south in the North Atlantic; the first time was in 2012, when CCS scientists spotted a bowhead off the Outer Beach in Orleans.

Close-up of the head of the bowhead whale, an Arctic species spotted feeding in Cape Cod Bay. Photo/Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies
Close-up of the head of the bowhead whale, an Arctic species spotted feeding in Cape Cod Bay. Photo/Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies

The bowhead was spotted by scientists from the Center’s Right Whale Research Program during an aerial survey on April 11, 2014. It was identified by the Center’s right whale identification specialist and flight coordinator Corey Accardo, who has worked extensively with both bowhead and right whales.

The bowhead was feeding with right whales when it was photographed. Like the right whale, the bowhead are slow-moving filter feeders that subsist largely on zooplankton such as the copepods that are abundant in Cape Cod Bay at this time of year.

Bowheads, which are related to the right whale, inhabit the Arctic Ocean and far northern reaches of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and are specifically adapted to life in the polar region. They have very thick blubber that provides both insulation and energy storage, and can remain underwater for up to 35 minutes, swimming long distances beneath the Arctic pack ice and using their immense skull to push up through sea ice to create breathing holes. They are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.