Pelagic Report


adjective technical: of or relating to the open sea.

Each week Steve Junker speaks with a research expert about an aspect of our coastal environment. From disentangling whales, to examining seal scat, to sonar-mapping the undersea environment, and much more, we look at the fascinating natural world where the land meets the ocean. 

E. Eldredge /

You've probably heard of the Slow Food movement, but you may not have heard of Slow Fish. It’s an international gathering that happens once a year, focusing on promoting a sustainable, non-industrial approach to bringing fish from sea to table.

The biggest and fastest whale typically in Cape Cod waters is not one you hear talked about often. It's not the humpback, and not the right whale, our high-profile species. It's the fin whale.

Center for Coastal Studies / NOAA permit #14603-1

Whale watching from Cape Cod beaches? Yes you can. Dr. Charles "Stormy" Mayo, of the Center for Coastal Studies, says that we have remarkable opportunities to see endangered North Atlantic right whales from local shores.

Winter may seem like a dormant season in our region, especially in local waters, but there can be a lot going on that’s not easily seen. This is the time of year that Right Whales typically begin to show up in Cape Cod Bay, and as best we understand, they come for the food – the plankton that will soon be starting to bloom.

Photo by CCS under NOAA Permit

How do you study the diet and eating habits of seals? As they hunt in the open water, it’s almost impossible to see what they’re putting into their mouths. 

But there is another way.

Center for Coastal Studies

The new movie "The Finest Hours" is the tale of the 1952 sinking of the SS Pendleton in a storm off Cape Cod, and the daring rescue of its crew by the members of the Chatham Coast Guard Station. Now the Center for Coastal Studies, in Provincetown, has done some extensive underwater mapping of the wreckage of the Pendleton.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1984, David Mattila and Charles "Stormy" Mayo set out from Provincetown to free an entangled whale. It was their first attempt, and they had little to guide them.

Since that day they have been at the center of creating protocols and best practices for whale entanglement response.

Center for Coastal Studies

January marks the time of year when North Atlantic Right whales typically begin to show up in Cape Cod Bay. This year has been no exception, with a pair of whales being sighted on January 7.

Center for Coastal Studies

Last Friday a 40-ton humpback whale was found in Cape Cod Bay entangled with a buoy line around its flukes, unable to swim.

The Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team at the Center for Coastal Studies sprang to action when the call came. In just twenty or so minutes they were at the entanglement site in their 35-foot boat Ibis. Scott Landry, director of the team, said team members used a grappling hook to catch the buoy line.

Using special 30-foot-long tools - essentially very sharp knives on the ends of poles - team members worked to cut the line.

Shopping bags and candy wrappers. Old fishing gear. Storm-shattered docks. Drink cups and straws.

Marine debris comes in many forms. And you know what? The worst of it doesn't appear on our beaches in summer.

Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism / flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

For the last few  years Owen Nichols has been studying marine life in Pleasant Bay. Particularly amazing, he says, is the abundance of juvenile diversity within the bay, marking the area as a kind of sealife nursery. He's found juvenile lobsters, mussels, scallops, whelk, and winter flounder, to name just a handful of species.

In October representatives for fifty-four nations gathered in Chile to commit resources to protecting the oceans. Next month in Paris, many of those same officials will gather at the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change.

Rich Delaney, president of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, and a founder and board member of Global Ocean Forum, was in Chile for the Ocean Conference, and he heads soon to the Paris Conference. He is not a negotiator, but will be in Paris with colleagues to conduct a side event, highlighting the impact of climate change on oceans.


"People on Cape Cod are extremely spoiled when it comes to the North Atlantic Right Whale," says Scott Landry, Director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team for the Center for Coastal Studies. "Most folks know that by April you can head up to Herring Cove in Provincetown and watch a huge number of Right Whales from the beach."

Right Whales are the rarest of all the large whale species.  They’re so rare that our North Atlantic population is individually numbered, with around 500 known to exist.