A North Atlantic right whale seen swimming in Greenport Harbor may have left the area, a marine expert said Friday after a two-hour aerial search produced no further sightings.
The hope is that the endangered whale has returned to its normal migration route, said Rob DiGiovanni, executive director and senior biologist of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
The aim of the search, which included areas around Shelter Island, Gardiners Island and south of Fishers Island, was to obtain "as much information as possible with the least amount of disturbance around the animal," he said.
While right whales are rare -- with only 350 to 450 remaining, "it's not a total surprise to see one" off Long Island, DiGiovanni said.
This one is likely on a migratory route running south out of the Bay of Fundy, he said. If it's a female, it could be heading to calving grounds off the coast of Georgia and northern Florida.
The whale was spotted Thursday in Greenport Harbor by residents and a ferry operator. The sighting was confirmed by the foundation and U.S. Coast Guard, which urged boaters to stay at least 500 yards away from the protected marine mammal.
No further sightings were reported by the public Friday, a further indicator that the whale has moved on, DiGiovanni said.