The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies For several months each year, the North Atlantic right whale visits the bay on its seasonal wanderings around the Gulf of Maine. With just 450 known specimens of Eubalaena glacialis, the species is among the rarest in the world. And the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS), which marks the 35th anniversary of its founding this year, has been at the forefront of our understanding of this capricious animal.

Back in 1975, Mayo, a native of Provincetown who had been working as a fisheries scientist in Miami, had just returned to Cape Cod with his wife, Barbara. The couple befriended Graham Giese, a physical oceanographer and coastal geology specialist. The trio shared interests in the day’s environmental issues. “We realized we had the core of a science group,” Mayo says. “We all had PhDs and looked good on paper.”

Initially, the three taught courses on environmental issues to Provincetown visitors. As the organization grew, Mayo, whose wife passed away in 1988, says he and the organization struggled because none of the scientists were interested in the bureaucracy of running a nonprofit. Today, with an executive director and roughly 25 employees, the center has become a research institution with a broad reach. PCCS conducts research on humpback whales under the direction of Dr. Jooke Robbins, and it has pioneered techniques to free entangled whales from fishing gear. Giese continues to study the dynamics between land and sea on the Outer Cape. PCCS provides crucial data to policy makers, its members serve on a variety of boards and advisory panels, and the center continues to promote an array of educational programs.

For 27 years, whale research has been a cornerstone of the center’s endeavors, and their research has contributed to the establishment of nearby Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary as well as to the designation of Cape Cod Bay as a critical habitat for right whales. The right whale study began as a hunch: At the time, most experts believed that just a handful of North Atlantic right whales stopped by in late spring to replenish themselves as they traveled further north. But Mayo had a feeling it wasn’t confined to such a narrow window of time—locals had reported right whale sightings much earlier in the season ever since PCCS was founded. “By January 31, 1984, we saw our first right whale,” Mayo says. “And we’ve seen them during the winter ever since.”

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Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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