Three endangered right whales shut down boat traffic in Cape Cod Canal

Three critically endangered right whales led to the closure of the Cape Cod Canal on Sunday.

Boat traffic was halted on the waterway by the Army Corps of Engineers and the US Coast Guard following the sightings.

The seven-mile Cape Cod Canal is a manmade part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway connecting Cape Cod to the Massachusetts’ mainland. It cuts more than 100 miles off the journey around the Cape for thousands of vessels which use it each year.

It is unclear why the North Atlantic right whales ended up in the canal but scientists told local news station WHDH that the mammals can be drawn to feed in the waters.

Dr Michael Moore, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, told the station that, “the opportunity to see these animals from the shore is a lifetime experience”.

The Coast Guard said the Cape Cod Canal would remain closed overnight into Monday.

Woods Hole states that there are an estimated 340 North Atlantic right whales left, including only 80 breeding females, making it one of the world’s most endangered species.

They are typically found off the east coast of the US and Canada which makes them particularly vulnerable to entanglements with fishing boats, large vessel traffic and the climate crisis.

A north Atlantic right whale swims with dolphins (Allison Henry / NOAA)
A north Atlantic right whale swims with dolphins (Allison Henry / NOAA)

The species is protected under the US Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

The right whales are critical to marine biodiversity as their feces spreads nutrients across the ocean floor and once they die, their carcasses feed other species.