Monica Zani / New England Aquarium

(Catalog No. 1140)
As you can tell from her family tree (pdf, 4.5mb), Catalog No. 1140, “Wart,” is one of the more productive females in the catalog. She has given birth to at least six calves since her first sighting in 1981 (in 1982, 1987, 1990, 1994, 2001 and 2005). Wart is one of the right whales that helped scientist begin to grasp just how far a right whale can travel in a relatively short amount of time. In August of 1990, Dr. Bruce Mate from Oregon State University attached a satellite transmitter to Wart while she and her calf were swimming in the Bay of Fundy. During the next six weeks, Dr. Mate tracked Wart and her calf as they swam south to Cape Cod, then around the Cape and past New York City down to the shores of New Jersey. The pair then turned around and headed back to the Bay of Fundy, where they were re-sighted. The length of the trip: six weeks!. Was she taking her calf on that journey to show him the current and historic feeding grounds? Do all mothers make such trips with their calves to teach them where to find food when they’re on their own?

Another calf of Wart’s, a male born in 1994, has an interesting travel story of his own. In December of 1994, this young whale swam up the Delaware River past Philadelphia— more than 100 miles from the ocean! He spent a difficult week in the area, dodging river traffic and getting mired in a maze of piers and pens at the Hess Oil Corporation in Pennsauken, New Jersey. He was hit by a tug shortly before he left the river, and for a year and a half we were left to wonder whether or not he survived. Then, in August of 1996, we found a young whale with a large propeller scar on his left side and discovered that our young friend had survived. In honor of his adventurous spirit, we dubbed him “Shackleton” after Sir Ernest Shackleton, a famed Antarctic explorer.  Perhaps Wart had taken him to the waters off the Delaware coast when he was a calf; that area was a well-known right whale habitat back in the 17th and 18th centuries. So little Shackelton, being curious but unfamiliar with the coastline, may have just made a wrong turn. We’ll never know, but that doesn’t keep us from wondering about the mysterious lives of these whales.