History of Whaling and Estimated Kill of Right Whales, Balaena glacialis, in the Northeastern United States, 1620–1924

Reeves, Randall R. and Breiwick , Jeffrey M. and Mitchell , Edward D. (1999) History of Whaling and Estimated Kill of Right Whales, Balaena glacialis, in the Northeastern United States, 1620–1924. Marine Fisheries Review, 61(3), pp. 1-36.

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Abstract

This study, part of a broader investigation of the history of exploitation of right whales, Balaena glacialis, in the western North Atlantic, emphasizes U.S. shore whaling from Maine to Delaware (from lat. 45°N to 38°30'N) in the period 1620–1924. Our broader study of the entire catch history is intended to provide an empirical basis for assessing past distribution and abundance of this whale population. Shore whaling may have begun at Cape Cod, Mass., in the 1620’s or 1630’s; it was certainly underway there by 1668. Right whale catches in New England waters peaked before 1725, and shore whaling at Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket continued to decline through the rest of the 18th century. Right whales continued to be taken opportunistically in Massachusetts, however, until the early 20th century. They were hunted in Narragansett Bay, R.I., as early as 1662, and desultory whaling continued in Rhode Island until at least 1828. Shore whaling in Connecticut may have begun in the middle 1600’s, continuing there until at least 1718. Long Island shore whaling spanned the period 1650–1924. From its Dutch origins in the 1630’s, a persistent shore whaling enterprise developed in Delaware Bay and along the New Jersey shore. Although this activity was most profi table in New Jersey in the early 1700’s, it continued there until at least the 1820’s. Whaling in all areas of the northeastern United States was seasonal, with most catches in the winter and spring. Historically, right whales appear to have been essentially absent from coastal waters south of Maine during the summer and autumn. Based on documented references to specific whale kills, about 750–950 right whales were taken between Maine and Delaware, from 1620 to 1924. Using production statistics in British customs records, the estimated total secured catch of right whales in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania between 1696 and 1734 was 3,839 whales based on oil and 2,049 based on baleen. After adjusting these totals for hunting loss (loss-rate correction factor = 1.2), we estimate that 4,607 (oil) or 2,459 (baleen) right whales were removed from the stock in this region during the 38-year period 1696–1734. A cumulative catch estimate of the stock’s size in 1724 is 1,100–1,200. Although recent evidence of occurrence and movements suggests that right whales continue to use their traditional migratory corridor along the U.S. east coast, the catch history indicates that this stock was much larger in the 1600’s and early 1700’s than it is today. Right whale hunting in the eastern United States ended by the early 1900’s, and the species has been protected throughout the North Atlantic since the mid 1930’s. Among the possible reasons for the relatively slow stock recovery are: the very small number of whales that survived the whaling era to become founders, a decline in environmental carrying capacity, and, especially in recent decades, mortality from ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

Item Type: Article
Title: History of Whaling and Estimated Kill of Right Whales, Balaena glacialis, in the Northeastern United States, 1620–1924
Personal Creator/Author:
CreatorsEmail
Reeves, Randall R.
Breiwick , Jeffrey M.
Mitchell , Edward D.
Refereed: Yes
Journal or Publication Title: Marine Fisheries Review
Volume: 61
Number: 3
Page Range: pp. 1-36
Date: 1999
ISSN: 0090-1830
Issuing Agency: United States National Marine Fisheries Service
Subjects: Biology
Conservation
Fisheries
Management
Item ID: 9789
Depositing User: Patti M. Marraro
Date Deposited: 14 Aug 2012 20:15
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2012 20:15
URI: http://aquaticcommons.org/id/eprint/9789

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