April 7, 1999 -- Two Teams of Sceintists Are Looking for Right Whales and Harbor Porpoises

Northeast Fisheries Science Center


Media Alert: There is room available for press on some right whale survey flights. Writers and photographers who would like to go on a flight can contact George Liles or Teri Frady at NMFS's Northeast Fisheries Science Center. Please be aware that the flights may last four or more hours. The chances of finding whales on any flight are good, but there is no guarantee. Also be aware that the aircraft circles over whales and passengers have been known to experience airsickness.

Flying Biologists

To Find Northern Right Whales

and Harbor Porpoises

Woods Hole, Mass. -- NOAA Fisheries biologists are taking to the air in what has become an annual airborne search of New England waters for marine mammals, particularly the endangered Northern right whale and the harbor porpoise.

Two teams of biologists will spend hundreds of hours aloft over the next four months collecting information on the number, location, and movements of these animals. The resulting information is used by scientists who monitor the biological status of whales and porpoises, and to evaluate the effectiveness of rules intended to protect marine mammals from the risks posed by vessel traffic and some fishing gear.

In addition, when the mammal-spotters find Northern right whales, the whales' position is broadcast to mariners to help reduce the risk of ship strikes, which are known to injure or kill these rare, slow moving animals.

April 7, 1999


George Liles

PH: (508) 495-2378



Teri Frady,

Chief of Research


PH: (508)495-2239

FAX: (508)495-2258

NMFS/NER press releases

can be found online:




NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service l 166 Water Street l Woods Hole, MA l 02543-1026

Northeast Fisheries Science Center





Aerial Surveys

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One team is conducting surveys specifically for Northern right whales, the world's most endangered large whale. The other team is conducting harbor porpoise surveys in and around Jeffrey's Ledge (approximately 25 miles offshore northeast of Boston) and in Rhode Island Sound. The harbor porpoise team interrupts its surveys to photograph and report any right whales they see.

This year's whale survey flights will continue through June and focus on the Great South Channel and other waters off southeastern Massaschusetts. Other areas of interest include waters off Long Island, Rhode Island, Nantucket, New Hampshire, and Maine.

The harbor porpoises surveys will focus on fishing areas in the Gulf of Maine and Southern New England where gillnetters are using acoustic devices called "pingers" to reduce their unintended catch of harbor porpoises. Although not listed as endangered or threatened, harbor porpoise remain on the candidate list of species, owing largely to threats posed to them from entanglement in fishing gear. This survey will gather information to help determine the effects of pingers, including, for example, whether they cause the animals to relocate.

The harbor porpoise and whale surveys are both being conducted with twin engine aircraft. The Northern right whale survey team is using a NOAA Twin Otter aircraft flying out of the USCG Otis Air Station on Cape Cod. The harbor porpoise surveys are being conducted aboard a Grumman Widgeon aircraft. Each team will each conduct two or more flights per week, weather permitting.

The whale surveys aboard the Twin Otter last an average of six hours, and generally cover 500-600 nautical miles at 750 feet. When Northern right whales are spotted, the pilot descends to approximately 500 feet to allow scientists take photographs. The pictures are sent to the New England Aquarium for identification. Other flight data are submitted to the Right Whale Consortium database maintained at the University of Rhode Island.

The Grumman Widgeon is an amphibious aircraft that can stay aloft up to seven hours and cover 700 nautical miles. Harbor Porpoise survey flights are conducted at low altitudes (typically 600 feet).


NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service l 166 Water Street l Woods Hole, MA l 02543-1026

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