Rare drone video shows critically endangered North Atlantic right whale surface active group


What:  During a joint research trip in Cape Cod Bay, photographer Brian Skerry and scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the New England Aquarium witnessed a remarkable biological event: North Atlantic right whales in a surface active group, also known as a SAG.

SAGs are known to involve close interactions between groups of right whales, that may include playful, reproductive, and vocal behavior. While flying drones to measure their body condition, researchers saw what appeared to be whales hugging with their flippers, technically described as ‘belly to belly,’ perhaps showing affection.

The aerial perspective of these behaviors has rarely, if ever, been captured before.

Why:  Most news about right whales in recent times has been about trauma from collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered, with approximately 360 individuals left on the planet.

On this day, February 28, the right whales gave researchers a unique view of their lives; spending gentle, quiet time together, possibly making new right whales. The whales were also seen skim feeding on plankton, and nursing calves, possibly conceived in SAGs more than a year ago.

There are less than 100 females capable of raising new calves in the entire species. This event was full of hope and wonder, and of the urgent need to reduce the trauma that they routinely face, so that they can thrive, and the species recover.

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Video credit:

©Brian Skerry/National Geographic Magazine

©Michael Moore/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

With funding from and

Under a scientific research permit from NOAA Fisheries (# 21371).



Pam Bechtold Snyder –, 617-686-5068