Whales in Delmarva area Environment: Right whales are rarely sighted in this area, but humpback whales are at home at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

September 22, 1996|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

"Right whales are very rare" in Delmarva waters, says David Schofield, a marine mammal specialist with the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

"They migrate by the Maryland coast in much deeper waters on their way to calving areas" near Florida and are rarely seen here, he said.

"The only right whale we've encountered in this area is a calf that swam up Delaware Bay two years ago," Schofield said.

The dark brown northern right whale appeared in the afternoon of Dec. 3, 1994, in the Delaware River between Penn's Landing in Philadelphia and the New Jersey State Aquarium in Camden. Its head was bleeding from an injury, probably caused by a collision with a floating dock during its 80-mile trek from the mouth of the Delaware Bay at Lewes, Del., to Philadelphia..

Scientists identified the whale as Shackleton, an 11-month-old calf. The whale was 29 feet long and weighed about 25 tons.

Rescue teams led by Dr. Charles Mayo, senior scientist for the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., redirected the whale back to the sea.

Although whales and other marine mammals rarely venture into the relatively shallow Chespeake Bay, a group of humpback whales began routinely to feed near the bay's mouth in 1991 - as many as 19 in a winter - in the food-rich plume of water debouching from the bay, fed by runoff from the bay watershed.

For the humpbacks, the plume is a lush pasture, an oasis amid the desert of the relatively nutrient-poor sea. The bay anchovies they slurp here are among the Chesapeake's most common forage fish.

In the spring of 1992, a pair of humpbacks measuring nearly 35 feet long and weighing up to 40 tons ranged up the bay as far as the Bay Bridge.

Humpbacks are nomads, moving seasonally between Canada and the Caribbean, seeking the patches in the sea where bays, rivers and other phenomena concentrate food.

Whale-watching expeditions from Ocean City have reported sightings of various whale species, including fin, minke, sei and sperm whales.

The sperm whale, the species of "Moby Dick" fame, sometimes can be encountered in groups of up to 40 animals near the submerged canyons off Maryland and Virginia, according to excursion boat operators.

Bottlenose dolphins and pygmy sperm whales are the most common species of small, toothed whales in Delmarva waters, Schofield said.

Other members of the toothed-whale group found here include common dolphins, striped dolphins, harbor porpoises and pilot whales, he said.

One Ocean City excursion in 1992 reported seeing dozens of dolphins and about 125 pilot whales, which measure up to 23 feet and swim in large pods.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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