MOUNT DESERT ROCK, Me. — From the top of the six-story lighthouse, water stretches beyond the horizon in every direction. A foghorn bleats twice at 22-second intervals, interrupting the endless chatter of herring gulls.
At least twice a day, beginning shortly after dawn, researchers climb steps and ladders and crawl through a modest glass doorway to scan the surrounding sea, looking for the distinctive spout of a whale.
This chunk of rock, about 25 nautical miles from Bar Harbor, is part of a global effort to track and learn more about one of the sea’s most majestic and endangered creatures. So far this year, the small number of sightings here have underscored the growing perils along the East Coast to both humpback whales and North Atlantic right whales.
This past summer, the numbers of humpback whales identified from the rock were abysmal — the team saw only eight instead of the usual dozens. Fifty-three humpbacks have died in the last 19 months, many after colliding with boats or fishing gear.
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Image collected under MMPA Research #775-1875
Photographer: NOAA/NMFS/Peter Duley