#8: Offshore for two weeks!

Similar to last year, a team of five researchers and Captain Joe have headed offshore on the Shelagh to survey Roseway Basin for right whales. This year, however, the team will be away from the Lubec field station for two weeks! They are hoping to find lots of right whales, and will also be helping Dalhousie University to deploy several acoustic devices that will record underwater noises (hopefully lots of right whale calls!) continuously for days. The Shelagh will be docking at Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia, to refuel and take refuge during inclement weather. Hopefully the team will return to Lubec with lots of documented right whale sightings, and plenty of fun stories from being at sea!

The team checking out the Shelagh before loading supplies and equipment. 


#7: The Joy of Listening

Our Tuesday survey turned out to be quite special. The light winds promised by our weather forecast actually delivered this time- our sea state ranged from 0-2 for the entire day! Get a load of this:

Kelsey and Bill on watch. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom

As we traveled to the east, an odd looking whale was sighted on the horizon. Was that one whale, or two? Did that blow look different? Amy was able to identify the species from a distance: sperm whale!

Our 2014 sperm whale. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom

We've had a few sperm whale sightings every year since 2010. The hydrophone was lowered over the side of the Nereid, and we took a few minutes to enjoy listening to it click click clicking. Take a listen for yourself!

Back in the office that night, Monica would identify our sperm whale as a whale that we have photographed in the Bay of Fundy before! We bet the researchers we've been sending these sightings to will be pleased to have another data point and evidence of residency.

Each sperm whale has a unique trailing edge. Photo: Amy Knowlton

We continued on our tracklines, heading further east than we've been so far this year. Although we had an idea of where most of the right whales would be, we avoided that area on purpose because we wanted to survey the shipping lanes. If there were right whales there, we could immediately alert the shipping traffic to their presence. Fortunately, we didn't observe any whales in the shipping lanes- let's hope that our slow moving friends continue to reside elsewhere!

Once we completed our eastern survey, we moved west and eventually came across the right whales we were expecting to find. They were very scattered but would log at the surface for a few minutes before diving, so we were able to photograph many of them. In all, we documented 24 individuals!

Catalog #1611, "Clover" - a female born in 1986. Photo: Bill McWeeny

After working all day, Amy suggested that we take a moment to enjoy the scene around us- surrounded by right whales in a sea state 0. It was so nice to take a step back and just listen to these whales breathing....

- Marianna


#6: Right whales, Fin whales!

After two full survey days, it was nice to have Saturday to catch up on office work and have a team meeting. Everyone went to bed pretty early because the weather for the next few days was looking great, and we needed to be well-rested and ready for it.

A small team, meeting in Saturday's sunshine.

So, on Sunday we pushed off the dock at 6:45 AM and ventured out into the Bay of Fundy. We've been noticing how few harbor porpoise we've been seeing- nothing to be be alarmed about, but usually our journey across the Grand Manan Channel yields a significant number of these little guys. After a few quiet survey hours, we started seeing right whale blows around 10 AM. Monica was our whale watcher for the day, working to identify individuals and communicate to the photographers and person at the helm. Some of the whales had not been seen on our prior surveys, and most of the whales were behaving pretty chill- not associating with each other, and briefly logging at the surface before going on 10 minute dives. However, the whales were scattered and it was not too easy to follow individuals.

Catalog #1332 "Dollar," was named for the head scar that looks like a dollar sign. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom

At one point in the day, Dropcloth (Catalog #1271) was seen. Dropcloth is a male who was first seen in 1978, but we don't know how old he is. He still needs to be biopsy darted for genetics, and although we tried to obtain a sample, we were not able to. Hopefully next time! We were, however, able to collect our second poop sample for the season. We were able to smell it before finding it, but got to scoop it up before it sank.

Dropcloth: seen, but not biopsied. Photo: Philip Hamilton

Around 4:15 PM, we wrapped things up and put the cameras away, but not before having photographed approximately 40 right whales! As we were surveying back through the Basin, very obvious fin whale blows were seen in the distance. We estimated eight fin whales traveling together, stampeding through the water. It was a fantastic sight, and we spent a short time with them before continuing back home. Check out the video below for a little taste:

Our attempts to survey far east on Monday with "light winds" were foiled by strong winds- after two hours on survey, we decided to turn around and head back home. Arriving back in Lubec, we had a meeting about our upcoming offshore voyage to Roseway Basin. On Friday, a team of six will head out for a two week long survey, so there is much to do before our departure!

- Marianna


#5: A Successful Second Survey

On Friday, we left the dock around 6:45 AM, eager to see what our second survey would hold. Not too far in to our tracklines, the dark clouds that seemed so far away decided to let a few raindrops loose on us. The worst of the weather ended up on land, where folks experienced a severe storm. Lightning even struck not too far from our field station in Lubec!

Quatro at the surface. Photo: Moira Brown

Happily, the success of Thursday's survey was not an anomaly- we started seeing right whales just before 9 AM. Our sightings were of many familiar faces that we didn't see the day before, like Junction (Catalog #3745), Phantom (#3803), and Quatro (#1968).

Phantom survived a terrible incident where his body and head were run over by a vessel. Photo: Monica Zani

We also saw a team favorite, Aphrodite (#1701)- actually, she is so well-loved that she's the star on the back of our Right Whale Research Program T-Shirts! Aphrodite was hanging out at the surface while we were observing her, and then all of a sudden she kind of scrunched up, rolled over and dove while upside down. It was a fun thing to watch- we're always amazed at how flexible and graceful these large whales are.

Aphrodite's roll (click for larger view). Photos: Kelsey Howe

As it got later in the day, the winds picked up and we decided to head in to avoid getting caught in the worsening weather. We were thrilled with the day we had- about 30 individuals photographed!! Needless to say, we're all in high spirits here and looking forward to the next day at sea.

- Marianna


#4: Whales, Brownies and Poop

This morning we left the dock around 7:15 AM, slightly later than usual to avoid any lingering fog. We were all thrilled to finally get back on the water, but encountering some of our favorite things made the day even more amazing.

Around 9:30 AM, we photographed our first right whale! Everywhere we looked, there were right whales. Typically when we hang in one area for a while, we start encountering whales that we've already seen that day, but we were pleasantly surprised to have new whale after new whale appear while not having moved very far.

We worked whales straight from 9:30 AM til 4:15 PM. The whale watchers lettered a total of 45 right whales! A few of them were duplicate sightings, but this is still the largest quantity of right whales we've seen in one day in the Bay of Fundy in a long time.

We saw many familiar faces, like Catalog #3810 (pictured above), Dropcloth (Catalog #1271), Alien (Catalog #2630), and Caterpillar (Catalog #3503). More photos of whales will be posted soon- at time of posting, they were still being downloaded/resized/uploaded from the field cameras.

At one point in the day, friends/colleagues who sailed from Marion, MA to the Bay of Fundy caught up with us in their beautiful sailboat. Spending much of their time studying whales, they were enjoying seeing so many right whales from a more relaxed state of mind. After a short chat, they handed off a container of homemade brownies that they baked on their sailboat! This special treat was definitely welcomed and gave us energy to power through the rest of the day.

The smell of chocolate was soon masked by the smell of whale poop- something whale researchers love, maybe some even more than chocolate? Whale poop has proven itself to be quite the goldmine, as these samples can tell us about a whale's reproductive and stress hormone levels, among other things. A net was quickly dipped in to collect these feces, and we know our colleagues at the NEAq's John H. Prescott Laboratory will be so happy to have another right whale sample to run tests on.

We're looking forward to finishing our office work for the day so we can go to sleep and do it all again tomorrow!