#32: Meet a Researcher/End of Season

Hi, Jess Taylor here. I've flown aerial surveys with the NEAq team for 3 years now. I took a year off last year when I was traveling around Australia. I've always wanted to go to Australia so it was great! I did some humpback research over there on the west coast, dived the Great Barrier Reef, and saw a few blue whales on an aerial survey, but I really missed right whales and am very excited to be back.

I have spent the last month here at the field station in Lubec, Maine. It has been great getting to see some of these familiar whales in close proximity. I got to see a very special whale, Catspaw that I haven't seen since 2005. I saw her on one of my first ever flights, when I was still learning how to take pictures whilst leaning out of a window, spinning in a plane at 1000 feet! So I was particularly nervous when we realized that the whale I had to photograph was giving birth! An event that had never been witnessed before. I was very happy to see her up in the Bay of Fundy with her 2008 calf, right on schedule giving birth every 3 years.

Whale Catalog #1632, Catspaw, with her second calf, #3532, male, named Resolution.
Taken January 5, 2005, four days after the calf was born. Photo: Jessica Larson / NEAq

It has been a really good experience to work from a boat in comparison to a plane down south. We have seen so many whales every day that we have been out, it's very hard to keep track of which whales we already photographed that day. It is as disorienting as being in the plane when there are no points of reference (like land) and trying to keep track of which whales were already photographed. It is a real skill to keep track of the directions of all the blows you see in the distance. I am also very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the New England Aquarium team, who have been working with these whales since the early 80s, they are real pros. There is a whale watcher who is designated to ID all of the individuals in a group that we work and remember which whales we have seen throughout the day, this is a really important job. The way that they recognise the individuals in the field so quickly is remarkable. (Find out who does what on the research vessel.)

We have been extremely lucky with the weather since I arrived on the 8th of September and it turned out to be an excellent month. I was able to get out on the water eight days, there was a window of good weather when we managed to get out three days in a row. On the 23rd we couldn't get back to the dock because we kept seeing more whales on our way home! They were just off of the lighthouse on Grand Manan, and eventually we had to leave them before it got dark. During that time we saw over 50 whales on each day! I have felt totally overwhelmed by all that I am learning, and we have had lots of unique experiences out on the water. There have been a few times that we were approached by a curious calf; I have heard whales mooing; and saw SAGs of over 15 animals all rolling, flipper slapping, making noises and underwater exhalations.

With a little more time on our hands, Cyndi and I visited a local preschool group to talk to some four-year-olds about right whales. Seeing how excited they were that they lived next to such fascinating creatures reiterates, from a child's point of view, just how amazing these mystical creatures are.

Now, with the boat safely hauled out for the winter and the field station packed away, we are ready to head back to Boston. I am glad I had the opportunity to work with such a passionate and affable group of people. We are all sad to leave the bay knowing that on our last day on the water, Sept. 25th, we saw 44 whales. We are all confident that the whales are still in the area, but due to the increasingly inclement weather conditions and deteriorating funding we cannot afford to stay in the area to help protect them. As we all return home, we say our goodbyes. The right whale team is spread out across the country, so the next time we will all be together again will be at the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium in November.

I hope the whales have a safe migration south. I look forward to seeing what whales show up and meeting the new additions to our population.

Although our field season is officially over there is still information we would like to make available to you. So keep tuning in to find out more about our efforts to protect one of the world most endangered marine mammals.

- Jess

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