#11: The First Right Whales We've Seen!

Early in the morning on August 23, we left the dock for the first time in days and headed across the Grand Manan channel. A wall of fog greeted us as we entered the Bay of Fundy, and we stopped to listen for whale blows. While we were drifting around, a seagull landed on the bow of the Nereid and amused us for a bit (to be fair, birds hardly ever land on the Nereid). We joked that this interaction would be the highlight of the day.

Relieved this isn't the only photo we have for this post... Photo: Philip Hamilton
Fortunately, something much more exciting would happen. After hours of a back and forth battle with fog and even rain, we finally found two right whales together- the first right whales that our team has seen in the Bay of Fundy! 

Catalog #2615, "Reef." Photo: Philip Hamilton

The whales were not easy to work, and the higher sea state did not help, but we obtained the photos we needed to identify the individuals! Catalog #2615 is a male named "Reef," born in 1996. Catalog #3651 is also a male, born in 2006.

Catalog #3651 at the surface, with #2615's fluke poking out of the water. Photo: Philip Hamilton

The rest of the survey didn't turn up any other right whales, but we were happy to have seen two of them- much, much better than a seagull!

Catalog #2615 goes down on a dive. Photo: Samantha Emmert



#10: Every Roseway Trip Has Its Thorn

The Roseway team patiently awaited in Yarmouth for a mechanic to drive from Halifax to inspect our generator on Tuesday, August 18. He arrived in the afternoon and promptly got to work. Unfortunately, he delivered some bad news to us after a few hours: the entire generator would need to be replaced. This is not a quick nor inexpensive fix.

Taking a close look at the generator.
 Sadly, the decision was reached that the observers would travel back to Maine while Captain Joe stayed in Yarmouth with the Shelagh until the generator could be replaced. We packed our bags, comforted Joe as best we could, and made our way to the Nova Star ferry early in the morning.

Upon boarding, we were excited to see this clever ad from NEAq and one of our funders, Irving!

The Nova Star ferry was a very comfortable way to travel from Yarmouth to Portland, ME. While the transit took about 10 hours, there were ways to stay entertained: a gift shop, a lunch buffet, and scheduled presentations and activities. Luckily, there was also plenty of room for us to stretch out and nap. 

The lounge seating we chose had loads of room for us to spread out.

Since we chose seats near the windows overlooking the bow, we were able to keep an eye on the water. The fog monster was real and persistent throughout the trip, which brought a small amount of consolation- had we been able to survey from the Shelagh, we would have had a very difficult time finding whales. For brief moments, the visibility would increase a bit and we held a casual watch, which paid off- we saw one humpback, several dolphins, and a few pilot whales!

Keeping a watch for right whales, just in case!

When we reached Portland in the evening, our colleague Dan met us with the work truck and all six of us piled in for the four hour drive to Lubec. Fog covered the road and the going was slow, but we made it to Lubec in one piece around midnight. A few days later, Joe and Jerry would bring the Shelagh back to Campobello Island- the generator can't be replaced before the second Roseway expedition, so the next team will have to make do without it.

Foiled by this guy...

...but still smiling!



#9: We'd Prefer the Cookie Monster!

In case our readers are curious why we have been so quiet recently, check out this article on the "fog monster" that has descended on both the Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin. Although the fog is beautiful, and perhaps would be welcomed by our friends in the heat wave further south, it makes finding whales very difficult!

Philip and Brigid on the bow in the fog hoping to hear or see a whale. The RADAR was on for safety so we had to sit on the deck to avoid its harmful radiation.

The fog is a common issue here in the Bay of Fundy; we had particularly long bouts of it in 2008 and 2012. Our fingers are crossed for a change in the weather pattern that has kept this moisture around for days now.



#8: Trying To Get Our Ship Together

With the weather looking improved and our plankton net onboard, the Roseway team decided to leave Cape Sable Island and head back out to sea on August 13.

Kim Davies, working on the MEOPAR WHaLE project, discusses our tracklines with Moe after delivering a plankton net.

However, as Captain Joe was doing an engine check, he discovered that our fresh water pump had failed. Moe and Joe were able to get a ride to purchase a new pump from a nearby shop, but installing it gave us a little problem which left Joe a bit wet.

Joe takes an unexpected shower.

Since most of us couldn't lend a useful hand during this process, members of the team were kept occupied by going for walks on the beach, reading, and practicing knot tying.

Reading party!

With fog having rolled in during the repair and most of the day now gone, we stayed one more night and left at 5 AM on August 14. However, the thick fog was still out there- so much fog, in fact, that we spent most of the day searching for a break in the blanket.

Listening station in the fog.
Since we couldn't see anything, we did listening stations in the hopes that we would hear whales breathing, breaching, or slapping at the surface. Finding a clearing, we were finally able to start surveying around 4:15 PM. Two feeding humpbacks and some leatherback turtles were sighted.

What fog looks like.

The night was spent at sea, with a watch rotating every two hours. Under a clear sky, distant fishing vessel lights could be seen from miles away- signs that we were no longer cloaked in thick fog. As the sun began to rise, Joe went to start the engine and discovered another problem: our generator wasn't working. While not being able to make coffee or toast was worrisome, our ship's electronics (such as GPS) run on 12 volt from the generator too, which, believe it or not, are more necessary than a cup of hot coffee. The Shelagh was going to have to head to Yarmouth to get assistance. Luckily, being at the western edge of Roseway, some time was shaved off our transit. We surveyed for about four hours before approaching port, seeing several groups of harbor porpoise along the way.

Joe's eggs and sad "raw toast."
Parts for the generator were ordered today, and will be brought down from Halifax tomorrow for installation. Yarmouth is a charming town which has been keeping us entertained as we wait- shopping, a yoga class, and visits to the library, coffee shops and a nearby golf course have helped to keep our spirits high. I'm sure you can imagine though, how thrilled we will all be when we see our first right whale....

The Shelagh at dock in Yarmouth.



#7: Meet Sam!

This season we've invited new faces to the team to introduce themselves and provide a little background on what led them to our research program. We first met Brigid, so now it's time to meet Samantha Emmert, who will be working in the Bay of Fundy on the R/V Nereid and offshore on the R/V Shelagh.
I am a recent graduate of Duke University (T'15) with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology. The path that brought me to The Whale House in Lubec begins five years ago in Cape Cod where I was a summer intern at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. My internship provided my first exposure to marine mammals, specifically the aquarium's rescued harbor seals, as I assisted with husbandry. One of the seals, Bumper, was blind and I became fascinated with his ability to flawlessly imitate behaviors trained to other seals. Although Bumper was not trained in these behaviors for fear that his blindness would make any efforts futile or dangerous to him, he was capable, perhaps through the use of his vibrissae (vibration-sensing whiskers), to learn from the movements of other seals.

Samantha at the helm.

Two summers later, inspired to learn more about marine mammal health and rehabilitation, I interned at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausilito, CA, with assistance from a DukeEngage Independent Project grant. This experience introduced me to cetaceans through the Center's stranding operations and participation in necropsies. I then spent my junior year at the Duke UNiversity Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC. Soon after I arrived at the lab, bottlenose dolphin strandings related to the morbillivirus Unusual Mortality Event began in the area. Throughout my year at the lab, I assisted Dr. Vicky Thayer with the strandings and necropsies and conducted a research project with Dr. Andrew Read on patterns in the die-off. While at the lab, I also took two field biology classes which made me fall even more in love with being on the water: Tropical Field Biology in Panama, and Marine Invertebrate Zoology in the Bahamas. In the summer following my junior year, I was a Summer Student Fellow at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where I worked with Dr. Michael Moore studying bottlenose dolphin breath sounds. This first exposure to marine mammal acoustic studies led me to conduct my senior thesis on short-finned pilot whale acoustics with Dr. Andrew Read. As a result of these experiences, I pursued the opportunity to participate in the right whale field season with commitment to a career in marine mammal conservation and the hope to gain field experience and contribute to the science that fuels conservation for one of the most endangered marine mammals.

The Mullholland Lighthouse on Campobello Island NB, captured by Sam during a particularly picturesque moment.

During our first week, we familiarized ourselves with Lubec, the Nereid, and our data collection methods. This includes learning how to estimate distances at sea and how to match photos of individuals to the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog. The weather was too foggy and windy to get out to the Bay of Fundy until August 7, when we finally got out on the water and put some of our new skills to work!