#2: First Day on the Water

We packed up the Boston office into our truck early Monday morning and headed north. Various cars packed to the brim showed up at the Lubec, Maine field station (photo album here) throughout the weekend. It always takes longer than expected to brush away the cobwebs and establish a functional office after the house has been dormant most of the winter. But we didn't have much time to acclimatize before jumping on the boat the very next day.

We were worried the weather wouldn't be conducive to surveying since there has been so much fog here over the past week, so when Tuesday, August 4, looked clear we grabbed the opportunity to get out on the water. After a long debriefing in boat safety and a few practice drills, we headed south out to the Bay of Fundy past Grand Manan. It was a beautiful day out on the water despite the thin layer of fog early in the day making it hard to distinguish a blow.

When our visibility was reduced considerably (less than one nautical mile at times) we would sit stationary for a period, and set up a listening station. Shutting down the engine, the blower and inverter so there was no interfering noise we would all sit in the midst of the fog and listen for blows. In fact it turned out that the Bay was relatively quiet and we were worried that we would get 'skunked' (have no sightings for the day).

Reports from locals suggested that there was nothing but a few fin whales around, and only a small number of right whale sightings a couple of weeks ago. However, in the last hour we had a sighting of a mom calf pair (EG # 2145 and calf). It was very exciting for me to see the pair and know that they had made the long migration successfully. Mom had a lot of mud on her head (see image) which may be an indication that she had been feeding on the ocean floor. Since I have a lot more experience observing these whales in their southern calving grounds where they do not feed, it is interesting to witness them performing different activities. Right whales are typically skim feeders but their food source (copepods) are found much deeper in the water column here in the Bay of Fundy and so it is not uncommon to see whales come to the surface with mud on their heads. It is good to see #2145 up here so early starting to fatten up after her extensive fasting period. She certainly deserves it after travelling approximately 3,000 miles, giving birth, nursing, not feeding the entire time, and with her 2009 calf close by her side, hopefully picking up a few hints along the way.

On the ride home the fog had rolled back in, so we relied on our radar and the crews' navigational skills to get us safely back to the dock. The next day brought more thick fog and so we caught up on data protocols and organizing the office. Luckily Friday looks to be giving us great conditions and we should get back out to see who else is in the area. We will keep you updated on all our latest news and look forward to your comments, but that's all for now.

You can search for all of the individual whales mentioned in this post on the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog.

- Jess

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