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Northern Right Whales Fight for Survival

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Northern Right Whales Fight for Survival

Radio Expeditions

Northern Right Whales Fight for Survival

Northern Right Whales Fight for Survival

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/4658917/4658920" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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PCCS image of a northern right whale taken under NOAA-Fisheries permit 633-1483, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts -- please request PCCS permission for use. Center for Coastal Studies hide caption

toggle caption Center for Coastal Studies

PCCS image of a northern right whale taken under NOAA-Fisheries permit 633-1483, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts -- please request PCCS permission for use.

Center for Coastal Studies

Stormy Mayo, senior scientist at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, sights a northern right whale on the Shearwater in Cape Cod Bay. Carlos Gomez, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Carlos Gomez, NPR

Stormy Mayo, senior scientist at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, sights a northern right whale on the Shearwater in Cape Cod Bay.

Carlos Gomez, NPR

The fluke of a diving northern right whale offshore from a Cape Cod lighthouse. Jooke Robbins/Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies hide caption

toggle caption Jooke Robbins/Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies

The fluke of a diving northern right whale offshore from a Cape Cod lighthouse.

Jooke Robbins/Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies

Every spring, the critically endangered northern right whale migrates north along the Atlantic coast. It's estimated that only 300 of these giant whales remain in the Atlantic Ocean, and they must pass through many obstacles — mainly shipping lanes and fishermen's nets — to reach their seasonal feeding grounds. And every year, a few more whales are killed.

Right whales got their name because they were the "right" whales to hunt — they're big, slow and float after they are harpooned and killed. Even though commerical hunting ended nearly 100 years ago, northern right whales haven't rebounded the way some other whale species have.

In recent years, researchers discovered additional dangers to the northern right whales that may lead to the extinction of the species (Eubalaena glacialis glacialis). In the latest report for the NPR/National Geographic co-production Radio Expeditions, John Nielsen takes a trip out to sea with Stormy Mayo, senior scientist of Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, to track the elusive mammal. Aboard the research vessel Shearwater in Cape Cod Bay, Nielsen and Mayo observe northern right whales as they feed and nurse their young.

Nielsen also meets with Christopher Clark, director of Bioacoustics at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who has placed underwater microphones along the Atlantic Coast to chart levels of noise below the waves. Clark says he is amazed at the level of noise that pollutes the waters — and he believes the noise can be another serious obstacle for the migrating whales.

Broadcast segment produced by NPR's Jessica Goldstein

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