#19: Right Whale Breaching

Video of a right whale breaching multiple times in a row!!
*video taken by Jonathan



#18: Another New Mother Right Whale Discovered

We've had two more days on the water since last we reported. August 22nd was an exciting day because yet another new mother for the year was discovered! Whale #1123, "Sonnet," was seen for the first time this year, and she was with a calf. At age 27, this is Sonnet's fourth calf.

The discovery of two new mothers for the year in the Bay of Fundy hasn't happened since survey effort on the calving ground in the southeast intensified in the early 1990's. (See this blog entry on the first mom discovered here this year.)

At the young age of 8 months or so, Sonnet's calf (at left) already bears the scars from an entanglement in fishing lines that had been wrapped around her head, a grim reminder of the peril these animals face. Click on the picture to see the injuries up close.

Another exciting sighting was that of whale #1208 (shown at left, use the Right Whale Catalog to look her up), a reproductive female that has only been seen in the Bay of Fundy three times in two different years. In both years she was with a calf. Could she also have a calf this year? Only time (and better weather!) will tell.

Besides our occasional trips to sea, our lives at the Whale House have been busy on land as well. Several colleagues from Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario came to meet about future research and funding opportunities for right whales. They have been using DNA analyses to unravel many of the mysteries of this species including paternities and the potential role the small gene pool is having on reproduction. Three and half days of meeting resulted in many thorough and thoughtful discussions and hypotheses. We are often all so busy that we don't have time to think about the big picture and we all found it very rewarding.



#17: The Calvineers Visit Day 2

Team members Amy Knowlton and Moe Brown were up before 5:00 AM checking the weather but the forecast for heavy winds forced them to cancel the Nereid's surveying efforts for the day. Because the Nereid did not go out the two Merediths got to sleep in until 7:30. After breakfast, which is "on your own" at the Whale House, the student scientists and Mr. McWeeny drove into Canada to Campobello Island to go on the Island Cruises Whale Watch with Mackie Green. In addition to running the whale watch boat, Mister Matthew, Mackie is on the Campobello Whale Rescue Team (CWRT). "Not only will we see whales and other sea creatures but we just might hear some stories of rescued whales." Meredith Olivari said hopefully. She was not disappointed. Robert, Mackie's first mate and fellow CWRT teammate, told us all about a rescue they did two years ago of a right whale caught in some fishing gear up near St. John, New Brunswick. "The work sounds exciting and dangerous, " Meredith Houghton commented thoughtfully.

The boat ride took us out past East Quoddy Lighthouse on Campobello's North Head. (East Quoddy Lighthouse has a red cross on it and should not be confused with the red striped West Quoddy Lighthouse in the United States.) The wind was light but Cobscook Bay was all churned up with the incoming tide running very strong around all sorts of islands, rocks and jetties. Harbor porpoise fed skillfully in the eddies using a bubble feeding technique to round up their prey while swarms of screeching gulls snatched up scraps of fish left over at the surface. Soon enough we were upon a couple of minke whales. Here is Meredith Olivari's account:

"Whale watching off Campobello Island was awesome and we saw three minke whales. Meredith and I named all the whales we saw. The first whale was Jacqueline and her smaller friend Brady. It seemed that if we gave the whales names we would have a stronger connection with them, almost like a human connection, and that way we kind of remember them better like people we meet or like new friends. When we moved to a different part of the bay we spotted a large Minke and for some odd reason the name Lars immediately popped into my head, Lars the Swedish Minke. I told Meredith and together we came up with this whole story about Lars like he came from Swedish waters and, since he was quite playful, was enjoying the "warm" Canadian bay. Lars came right up by the boat and we could see him very well, he was smooth and slick and we admired him while we could but in just a couple seconds he was gone, into the ocean again."

Meredith's "game" of naming the whales has some very practical uses in the world of science. Jane Goodall named her chimps with very descriptive names (David Gray Beard) and could tell immediately which family an individual was from by the first letter in its name. The Right Whale Research team has named many right whales with descriptive names (Crescent, Stumpy, Stripe) and some names that describe a whale's behavior like Shackleton for a right whale that explored the Delaware River up to Philadelphia. The student scientists' intuitive act of naming the whales they saw may come in handy if they become scientists and if they learn to use descriptive and not just "cute" names.

The highlight of the whale watch was the rescue of a creature in grave danger. An eagle had fallen into the water and was unable to fly. It could swim for a while but would eventually die if it were unable to reach land. The description of the event will appear in a subsequent posting entitled "Calvineers Visit: The Rescue".

Back in Lubec, at the Whale House, the Calvineers had left over pastas for lunch. During lunch they had quite a story to share with the scientists who had been working at their computers all morning. After lunch the student scientists learned how to match right whales. The image coding they had been doing would now pay off by helping them find matching images of unknown pictures of whales. Each series of pictures of a whale taken during a survey day (there can be 30 or 40 or more sightings each survey day) has to be matched to a known picture of the same whale. This is the beauty of DIGITS. The program saves hours of searching by using the coded images. Meredith Houghton explains, "Matching was definitely much harder than coding, but we managed to match a whale with Mr. McWeeny and Amy's help. We correctly identified the whale as Eg #2360! The next whale we tried to match did not go so well, and after looking through over 1000 pictures, we found one that was almost exactly the same, and marked it as an unsure match. It felt so awesome to be sitting behind a computer, doing the same exact things that the scientists here do everyday!"

The student scientists spent a good two hours matching just two animals and gained an appreciation for the amount of work that goes into maintaining the data base for the scientific community. Meredith Houghton wished that we could stay in Lubec for another week helping the team.

The day was coming to an end and soon the two would-be scientists would be on their way back to Castine, ME. They both thought the experience was one they would always remember, and Meredith Olivari had this final thought: "Well, if anything, I certainly learned that there is one thing these scientists and whales really have in common; they each have HUGE appetites!"

You can match whales to with the new right whale matching game!

Click here for the Calvineers' description of the exciting eagle rescue by the Campobello Whale Rescue Team.

Photo Captions:
1) Mackie Green shows the Calvineers what it's like to be a captain.
2) The Calvineers in front of East Quoddy Head

3) Struggling Eagle
All photos taken by Bill McWeeney



#16: The Calvineer's Visit Day 1

This summer The CALVIN* Project's Calvineers from the Adams School were invited to experience right whale research first hand at the New England Aquarium's Right Whale Research field station in Lubec, Maine. Two Calvineers, 7th grader Meredith Houghton and 8th grader Meredith Olivari, were able to take advantage of the unique invitation, spending two days and a night at the field station called the Whale House. The following is an account of the first day of their experience working and living with the scientists. (Click here if you'd like to learn a bit more about the Calvineers through their presentation given at the Aquarium May 17, 2011.)

"I learned so much from my two days spent in Lubec, it was a great opportunity to see what it's really like to live in a research environment and study whales." explained Meredith Olivari while reflecting on her visit. Meredith said that she was put right to work learning how to image code with DIGITS, the online data base program that holds most of the data collected by scientists about North Atlantic right whales since the early 1980's. She thought doing the work was a lot of fun and besides, "it is helping the scientists get some of the 'boring' work done." Meredith Houghton reflected on her first data task, "It was so interesting to learn about how the scientists keep track of and organize all of the images that get put into the system. We spent the (first) hour, coding pages of images that Amy was happy to print out for us." In fact, the two student scientists thought it was so much fun they rambled through a long list, coding more than 100 images before lunch. Once they did that they decided they were experts and knew the job well. "Only 3000 more to go!" they exclaimed.

The Calvineers' first meal was an eye opener. Lunch was left over Indian food from the day before. Claudia, the cook, had prepared it from scratch. What a treat, and even better the second day! After lunch they helped their teacher and Right Whale Program volunteer, Bill McWeeny, and scientist, Amy Knowlton, launch the Bonita, a zodiac (inflatable boat) used by the research team. The young ladies were learning that scientists in the field have to do all sorts of jobs including maintenance of the vessels and equipment. Then, Captain Amy Knowlton took the launch crew on a shakedown cruise across Cobscook Bay to Eastport. Meredith Houghton realized that a scientist might have to have a captain's license also. "Scientists have to do all sorts of things," she commented. The trip across the bay included a close inspection of salmon farm pens, and a Coast Guard inspection of the Bonita which surprised all, but everything was shipshape and the trip continued. Eastport is a small town with a few gift shops and galleries and restaurants. The crew's mission was to decide which flavor ice cream to sample. "Yum!"

Back at the Whale House, Claudia was cooking up a storm. It was pasta night and the smells of the various sauces were intoxicating. The two Merediths took advantage of the lull before dinner to do more image coding. They were in Lubec to do science and used every free minute to work on DIGITS. Other scientists in the large home office were also finishing up a day's work on data and reports. Most visitors are exempt from dinner duties, but the two student scientists pitched in, setting the table for 13 people and after dinner loading the dishwasher. "The meals here were amazing, last night we had gnocchi with pesto, penne with red sauce that had artichokes and Kalamata olives. I loved the food!" is how Meredith Olivari summed up the experience. Meredith Houghton agreed, "Claudia is a fantastic cook, we just couldn't stop eating the food she made!" The two student scientists managed to get a third session of image coding in after dinner and even watched a bit of the Olympics with the scientists in the small, crowded TV room.

Most of the evening, however, was spent working on a special project. Tricia Naessig (who is team leader for the Georgia Wildlife Trust in the calving grounds and is in Lubec to train with the Aquarium scientists) bought a chocolate whale at Monica's Chocolate shop in Lubec. She decided to make the sperm whale into a right whale ... specifically #2791, because that was the one whale she had seen the most of in the Bay of Fundy. Our Calvineers became totally involved; cutting, melting, foraging in the pantry for just the right callosity and scar materials (pecans and rice!). They helped Tricia create the ultimate #2791 whale. They learned anatomical details in spades! Of course it was their job to go onto DIGITS and search for pictures of every body part that #2791 has and then recreate the callosities and scars on the chocolate whale.

They were in bed by 10:00 PM but set their alarm for 5:30 AM because they wanted to help the scientists load the Nereid in the morning for a survey effort.

Stay tuned for the Calvineer's second day at the research station in Lubec and their exciting whale watch experience. They also get a chance to try matching whales with DIGITS.

* Students in Adams School's "The CALVIN Project" are called Calvineers. The Calvineers have been active in educating the public about the plight of the North Atlantic Right Whale for four years. Not only have they given many PowerPoint presentations in public, but they have also written letters to the president and legislators and the two Merediths spoke at Senator Olympia Snowe's Senate Subcommittee meeting last February. Preparing for presenting, letter writing and speaking took a lot of study and hard work over the years. In addition to the classroom studies, Calvineers have observed right whales in the Bay of Fundy and attended two North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium Meetings in New Bedford, MA. To date, fourteen students have taken part in The CALVIN Project.

Photo Captions:
1) The Cavineers hard at work in the Lab
2) Boat ride to Eastport
3) The Merediths recreate whale #2791 in chocolate

All photos taken by Bill McWeeney


#15: A window...Finally!

The recent north winds blew out the fog and then calmed down nicely this morning, giving us our first good weather window in two weeks. Excited to be out on the water again, we awoke at 4:15 this morning to check the weather, put on lots of layers, ate breakfast and loaded the boat with equipment. By 5:30 we were off the dock and headed out to find the whales!

We went to the eastern part of the Bay as we had heard that whales were recently seen there. After a few hours of surveying we found our first whale and quickly began to see others. As we photographed each whale, we would head over to photograph the next one that surfaced and soon found ourselves so far east that we were sitting in the middle of the outbound shipping lane! Keeping a keen eye out for ships (although we didn't see any all day) so we could be quick to move out of their way, we photographed four mother and calf pairs and six other individuals. Four of these individuals were involved in a surface active group (SAG). See SAG video here and here.

We photographed the whales as they energetically rolled and twisted around each other. The female in the SAG was a well known whale named Morse (go to the right whale catalog and search for #1608). Morse was born in 1986 and was given her name because a few white scars on her head reminded researchers of Morse code. After a good day with the whales, it will be a quite night at the Whale House as we all head to bed early in hopes that we will be woken by a subtle knock and the words "we're good to go."

We were able to get out on the water today for a brief window. Here is some footage of researchers Yan, Dan, Cyndi, Monica and Erin Burke (Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries) hard at work documenting a mother and calf pair. The mom's name is Arpeggio (go to the right whale catalog and search for #2753). Listen and look closely and you will hear the sounds of camera shutters clicking as researcher describe the scene and see the distinctive propeller scar on the right flank of Arpeggio.Photo of Morse (EG #1608) taken by Erin Burke.
Video of Arpeggio (EG #2753) and her calf taken by Jonathan Cunha.

- Cyndi/Jonathan


#14: Surface Active Group (SAG)

One of the terms we frequently use when describing right whale behavior is surface active group (SAG). A SAG has a fairly broad definition--two or more whales within a body length interacting at the surface--but typically, the SAG is comprised of one female and a number of males competing with each other in order to mate with her. Some SAGs are extremely active, with a lot of rolling and white water, whereas others are more sedate. The number of animals in a SAG can range from two or three to more than 40!

For years researchers presumed that the primary reason for a SAG was mating. However, conception is thought to take place in the winter (since gestation is about 12 months and right whales usually give birth between December and February), yet SAGs occur year round. Recent analyses of the composition and seasonality of these SAGs indicate that actually only about half of them include females able to reproduce. Thus, SAGs are not just for mating purposes.

Some have been documented to be all male, or all female, or all youngsters. Our colleague, Dr. Susan Parks from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, wrote a paper about SAG behavior in collaboration with Aquarium researchers (see below). She hypothesizes that, in addition to conception, SAGs may serve a variety of different roles including practice, play and social bonding.

Studying the behavior of marine mammals such as right whales is much more difficult than that of terrestrial species, because we get just a glimpse of these animals when they're at the water's surface. But the long-term photo-identification aspect of the Aquarium's program has enabled researchers to answer some very basic and important questions. The researchers found themselves in the right place at the right time and recorded fantastic videos of SAGs here and here.

Top photo: Taken by Monica Zani in the Southeast U.S.
Bottom photo: A typically boisterous SAG in the Bay of Fundy. Photo taken by Moira Brown

Parks, S. E. et al. 2007. Occurrence, Composition, And Potential Functions Of North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Surface Active Groups. Marine Mammal Science 23(4): 868-887.

- Marilyn


#13: Waiting for Whales in the Bay

The fog and wind finally let up enough for us to return to the Bay of Fundy to search for right whales. We saw several of them today, but we were only able to photograph one individual. Each opportunity we have to return to the Bay is exciting in its own way, and each whale we encounter presents its own challenges – some of the whales seem to say "let me pose for the photograph," while others say "catch me if you can!" In the latter case, we're usually waiting for the right whale to surface from a feeding dive (typically lasting 10 minutes). When the right whale is surfacing, it will let out a deep and powerful breath. The sound of the breath is a good clue to the animal's position on foggy days like today.

Food is thought to be one of the primary reasons right whales visit the Bay of Fundy. Just what does a 70-ton right whale eat? What else, but rice-grain sized crustaceans known as copepods (Read more about these tiny animals here and see a close-up picture of these pink creatures here.) Right whales eat by swimming forward with their mouths open, capturing copepods that are too slow or oblivious to get out of the way. Rather than chew their food with teeth, these whales trap their prey with fine comb-like strainers, known as baleen, that hang from the roof of the whale's mouth.

It takes a lot of copepods to satisfy the appetite of a whale, and it takes tons of energy (pun intended) to propel such a large animal forward with its mouth open. To make up for the extraordinarily large number of calories expended in the feeding process, right whales must find and forage in areas containing many thousands of copepods per cubic meter of water. In the Bay of Fundy, these dense concentrations usually occur 100+ meters below the surface.

The sight of the whale's tail (a.k.a. flukes), like a wave goodbye as the whale begins its dive, tells us that if we want to see it again we need to keep our eyes on our watch and our ears tuned to the telltale "blow" of the whale when it resurfaces.

- Dan


#12: The Relentless Fog

Well, today it's a combination of wind and fog that is keeping us on land, but for days it was just fog. If you've ever seen a horror movie called "The Fog" you'll understand when I tell you that the fog in Lubec could have played a starring role in that film. We have serious fog here. Sometimes it's a persistent mass that hangs over the area for weeks, only to be cleared when a dry northerly wind blows it away (warm southwest air holds the most moisture and that moisture condenses into fog as it is blown over the water). Other times, when the wind is light, the fog comes and goes with the tide. It may be perfectly clear in Lubec while the tide goes out but when it turns, wraith-like fingers of fog creep up our street from the Lubec Channel. Soon the water completely disappears from view (it's only two blocks away) and we hear the distant, mournful tones of the West Quoddy Lighthouse. Often the fog carries with it so much moisture that the sound of water dripping from the trees fills the air.

The Lubec fog comes in many forms, from delicate wisps to impenetrable walls, but it almost always prevents us from going out to sea. As of today, the fog has kept us landbound for 10 of the past 13 days! Because we use visual cues to find right whales (a tail lifted in the air or their distinctive V-shaped spout), we need to have good sighting conditions in the Bay of Fundy. So unless we expect the fog to clear by mid-morning, we just stay in, working on data and hoping for better weather tomorrow.

And when tomorrow rolls around one or two of our team members will check the weather, as we do every morning at 5 a.m. It involves a) looking out the window and b) checking a few weather websites for the day's forecast. We're looking for clear weather--no fog (for visibility) or rain (for camera and computer equipment)--and light winds. Ideally that means 10 knots (11.5mph) or less, but we often have to work in winds stronger than that. However, if winds are above 15 knots (17mph) it becomes too difficult to take photos (and hang on at the same time). This is especially true when the wind is against the strong Fundy tides, causing even higher seas.

To see a couple of the weather websites we use, check out marine forecasts here, and check this site to see buoy reports for the current conditions out in the Bay of Fundy (buoy "L" is the one closest to us).


#11: Surface Active Group Video

This is a video of a Surface Active Group (SAG) of North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy. Stay tuned for more information about right whale behaviors!



#10: "Resolution" in the Bay

This morning was another quiet one as the fog rolled in from the Bay of Fundy to form a solid gray blanket over the town of Lubec, Maine. This kind of weather sure makes getting up at 5:00 a.m. difficult, but with two days on land we were all itching to get back to sea. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, so again we find ourselves on land.

Photograph taken by Jessica Taylor of Resolution swimming next to his mother (Catspaw) moments after the birthing event on New Years Day, 2005.

However, the days on land give us the opportunity to get to work on processing all the data we've collected. From the two and a half days we've worked in the Bay of Fundy we already have over 1300 photographs of right whales to process! The processing will take many hours because each image can hold a wealth of information and must be carefully reviewed for its content. Not only can we discover the whale's individual identification from a photograph, but also it's behavior, association with other whales, the overall body condition, the presence of new scars or wounds from human impact and much, much more. As our blog continues we hope to touch upon some of these topics in greater detail, so please stay tuned!

As we begin to process images we start to recognize or identify more and more whales. While working out on the water we often get just a few quick glimpses of a whale before it dives, so although some whales are recognized on the spot others may not be identified until the data processing phase begins. However, whether it happens on the boat or days later when looking at an image on a computer screen, it's always exciting when we identify a whale. It's often like bumping into an old friend on the street or in the grocery store.

Seeing a particular individual often conjures up memories. For instance, seeing a whale might make me remember the first time I photographed a right whale, or my first day working in the Bay of Fundy. I can remember the whale I first identified from the air (while conducting aerial surveys for right whales in their winter calving ground of the southeastern U.S.) and I can remember the first whale I matched to the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog. So when I heard that the right whale named "Resolution" was photographed on our first day working in the Bay of Fundy this summer (August 6th), I was very excited. Why am I so excited about Resolution? Because I saw him being born! Not only that, but it was the first documented North Atlantic right whale birth!

Resolution in the Bay of Fundy on August 6, 2008. Photo taken from the research vessel Nereid by Jonathan Cunha.

Resolution (#3532) was born off the coast of Florida on January 1, 2005. On that New Year's Day morning over three years ago, I was an observer aboard a New England Aquarium aerial survey plane (from December through March we conduct aerial surveys for right whales on the calving ground off the southeast U.S.). When we first sighted his mom, Catspaw (#1632), thrashing at the surface of the water with a large amount of blood surrounding her, we thought she was badly injured. I had no idea I was about to be part of a team who would be the first and only four people to document a right whale birth! It took us a few minutes to realize what we were seeing...truth be told it was not until the small calf appeared at the surface that we realized what had just happened. Catspaw lifted the small calf to the surface with her body and soon the pair began to swim side-by-side and the remaining blood in the water dissipated. If we had arrived on the scene moments later we never would have known what had just occurred. And in case you haven't guessed it yet, he was named for a New Year's resolution.

It's exciting to know that both Resolution and Catspaw, are in the Bay of Fundy this summer, and that Catspaw is a mom again this year (healthy right whales can have a single calf every three years). Unfortunately, I was not on the water on the 6th of August (the team's first day on the water) so I missed seeing Resolution in person. But just hearing that he is in the Bay of Fundy makes me even more eager to get back out on the water so I can see him for myself!



#9: Tides

After another two days out in the Bay of Fundy, we are all thoroughly exhausted! Thursday shaped up to be another amazing day full of right whales. Many of these whales we had seen on the previous day, but we documented the presence of a few whales that we had not seen before. Within two days, we documented at least 53 right whales in the Bay of Fundy. Not bad for two days of work!

Today (Friday), we woke up bright and early and headed out into the Bay expecting to have yet another whale-filled day. After fueling the boat, we decided to head north, around the northern point of Campobello Island (known as East Quoddy Head). During the past two days on the water we continued to see whales to the east of us that we didn't have time to get to. In an attempt to find the eastern-most whales, we began our search for right whales by heading south-east. We soon found one right whale, who declared her presence by breaching. As we approached the whale started to "log." Logging is a resting behavior that is frequently seen and we describe it as "lying still at the surface of the water." From a distance, a resting whale can look like a log in the water, hence the term "logging."

Along with the callosity, this whale was identified as #2791 in the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog by a distinctive scar on her flukes. She is a female who last calved in 2006. As we resumed heading to the southeast, the seas slowly began building and we started to see lots of white caps. The wind was light, but coming from the northwest and the tide had started coming in. In the Bay of Fundy, having even a light breeze against the powerful tide can ruin your day!

The Bay of Fundy has the highest vertical tidal range in the world. This dynamic body of water sitting between Canada's New Brunswick and Nova Scotia can rise, at high tide, to just over 50 feet. Approximately 115 billion tons of water flood in and out of the Bay during each tide cycle. While folklore claims that these tides are caused by a giant whale splashing water into the Bay, oceanographers have another explanation. The tide of the ocean at the mouth of the funnel shaped Bay of Fundy creates a wave of water that builds as it travels up the Bay. Other factors such as storms, atmospheric pressure and position of the moon can influence the height of the Fundy tide. Unfortunately we decided that this wind vs. tide effect would cause the sea to be too rough to find and photograph right whales and so we turned towards home early today.

- Cyndi

Top photo taken by Bob Bowman. The research vessel Nereid heading for home as Monica and Jon stand on the bow searching for marine life and debris to record.

Lower photo taken by Marilyn of right whale # 2791.

#8: Smells like Poop!

We were only able to get out for half a day today, but we did collect a right whale fecal sample. The fecal samples are analyzed by Dr. Rosalind Rolland of the New England Aquarium for health and reproduction analysis of right whales.
Photo taken by Claudia


#7: Our first day out, finally!

Yesterday was our first day on the water, and it was great! Because it takes us about 2 hours to get from Lubec to our survey area in the Bay of Fundy, we left the dock aboard our research vessel Nereid at 6:15 a.m. The crew consisted of Amy, Philip, Marilyn, Cyndi, Yan, Jonathan and two guests: Bill and Claudia. The weather was fine--winds were light and sky partly cloudy. By 9:15 we had found our first whales and the hours flew by as we worked one after another. By "worked" I mean we gathered all the information possible for each whale--the time of its sighting and its location (latitude and longitude), photographs of the head (for the callosity pattern) and the body and flukes (for any scars or marks), behaviors, and associations (whether it was alone or with other whales).

It was good to be back on the water, and we all fell into the various jobs without too much trouble. We took turns photographing, driving and recording the data. One person is the designated "whalewatcher" and that person has to let the rest of us know which whale we're photographing, whether it's a new whale for the day or not, and what information we need from it. It's actually just about the toughest job on the boat--a lot of pressure and no breaks! Yesterday, Philip was whalewatcher, and, as always, he knew many of the whales on sight.

In the eight hours we were on the Bay, we photographed 36 individuals, including four mothers with calves! We also saw three calves without their mothers, but that's not unusual for this time of year in the Bay of Fundy. Calves are getting older and a bit more independent, so although they're still nursing, they may go off exploring on their own for hours at a time while mom is feeding. They reunite when one calls for the other.

The highlights of the day were the curious approaches from three different calves. Just like other baby mammals, right whale calves are curious about their surroundings, and it's not unusual to see a calf lifting seaweed onto its head or playing with a log. Sometimes it's the boat that interests calves and they have been known to spend many minutes swimming underneath and all around our boat, looking at it (and us?) from all angles.

After many hours on the water we finally began heading in at 5:00 returning to the dock at 7p.m., nearly 13 hours after we left! But our day wasn't finished yet. After a quick dinner (thanks, Monica!), we still had to process the data (all the information we entered into the computer for each sighting), upload images from the digital cameras (more than 700!), wipe down the equipment (salt air is tough on electronics), and prepare for the next trip out. Exhausted, none of us had any trouble getting to sleep.


First image caption: Hard at work: Marilyn recording data, Jon checking his photos, Philip ready for the next whale. Photo taken by Claudia

Second image caption: One of the curious calves.


#6: First Day on the Water

Here's a video of a right whale ... we saw a lot today!

To see more pictures from our first day out go to our web albums.
Here are some of those images:

photographing a right whale.

A fluke recorded during the expedition. Flukes are one of the many features used to identify individual whales.

- Jonathan


#5: Photo Album

From left: Philip, Yan, Monica, Claudia, Bill & Marilyn enjoying Claudia's amazing cooking!

Click here to see more pictures from the field station.



#4: Training on Nereid

Monica Zani (left) and Amy Knowlton (right) examining a buoy that holds a satellite transmitter. The buoy is used to help track entangled large whales making it easier for the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network to respond to the distressed animal.


#3: Still in fog!!

We have been here for 4 or 5 days now and the weather has been uncooperative. First thick fog, then rain, then rain and fog. We need good visibility to find the whales and dry conditions and relatively calm seas to use the equipment we need to work (cameras, video, computers).

So we have been spending our time setting up the office, reviewing research protocols, and remembering how to live cooperatively in a large house with 10 to 15 people. Although there is plenty to do to set up and plenty more to do to process back-logged data, we are all growing antsy--a feeling which is magnified by the knowledge that right whales have been seen in the Bay of Fundy.

Laurie Murison, our colleague from the Grand Manan Whale and Research Station, made several trips into the Bay before the weather turned bad and reported 20 to 30 right whales. Knowing of our particular interest in mothers with calves of the year, she forwarded some excellent photographs she took. Low and behold, she had documented a new mother for the year! Most of the mothers and calves are first seen off the coast of the southeast U.S., but a few are first seen further north. This whale, #3115, is a 7-year-old female that gave birth to her first calf this year.

Photo of #3115 from Laurie Murison's July 28th sighting in the Bay of Fundy.
See more pictures and sighting history on the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog web site.

This brings the calf total for the year up to at least 21. The weather does not look good for the next few days (in fact, we just had torrential rains and lightening that knocked out the power twice), but we will keep our fingers crossed for a change so we can see some of these youngsters for ourselves.

And for those of you in the sweltering summer heat, you may be surprised to hear that it is cold in Lubec. All of us already bundled in our sweaters and wondering if it is too early to turn on the heat!



#2: Fogged In

Weather conditions have not improved. We are all fogged up!! You can see how bad the visibility is by comparing the above image of the Nereid to the image taken yesterday from the same spot. The bridge is disappearing!

- Jonathan