#3: First Week On The Water

Tuesday's first boat day was a good shakedown cruise even though only two right whales were found. The survey was extensive covering much of the Critical Habitat area. We learned, for whatever reason, that there were few right whales in the Bay of Fundy this year on August 4, compared to many whales at the same time last year.

Wednesday and Thursday turned out to be office days for the Team. The two days ashore gave us time to get all the boat and office systems running smoothly, not to mention time to get our personal gear in order. By Friday morning the weather looked good and the well tuned Team and research vessel, the Nereid, were off at 6 a.m. to find if any of the other 400 or so known right whales had settled into the Bay of Fundy for their summer forage.

As soon as we began the regular transect southward, hugging the east side of Grand Manan Island, we came across whales, humpback whales. Although the Team's mission is to survey for right whales, there are other research teams surveying humpbacks and the Aquarium Team photographed these three to send the images on to the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, which maintains the photo catalog for humpbacks. Symbiosis is a process that pervades the science world, and research teams often help each other out when it does not impede their own work.

Two hours later we started spotting right whales, and three were documented in the southern part of the survey area. No more whales were seen until well after noon. By then we were surveying in the northern part of the area. A mother and its calf popped up very near the boat. The Team almost immediately identifies them as EG #2791 and her new calf (find this individual and others on the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog). Two mom and calf pairs made it to the feeding grounds, only 35 more to account for in the next two months of surveying. That's right, this past year there were more right whale births than ever recorded before. Good news to be celebrated cautiously, for the population growth still remains well below recovery levels.

There are many things going on in the Bay of Fundy in addition to right whale surveys. We heard an emergency broadcast that there was a severe storm packing 60 mile per hour gusts of wind in Passamaquoddy Bay. The storm was close enough for us to see but far enough away to monitor and stay clear of. The Bay is a unique place and during the many hours of survey we get to see harbor porpoise, gray and harbor seals, white sided dolphins, shearwaters, storm petrels, phalaropes, schools of tuna and even basking sharks which we occasionally see breaching. Many species sightings are recorded and the information shared with other research teams. There is not a day without some sort of surprise. Today we had a couple. While on watch I saw an odd shaped animal in the water that I was hard pressed to identify, and we actually slowed down to investigate. Upon closer look it was a large gray seal with a good size fish hanging out each side of its mouth. It was nonchalant as it slipped away with its prize leaving us wondering what it would do with such a catch.

The other surprise came on the way in. We called it a day when the wind began to strengthen and the weather on the horizon looked unpredictable. We headed diagonally across the survey area straight for North Head on Grand Manan Island, the quickest way home. We sighted and documented one more right whale on the way making a total of six for the day. We even saw two more right whale flukes in the distance leading us to believe that the Bay was starting to fill up. But for a couple of hours we could see on the horizon, toward Grand Manan, multiple high straight blows from a group of finback whales, the second largest whale in the world. We had to investigate this spectacle. Soon, voluminous blows of about twenty finback whales surrounded us. The videos are sufficient comment about the experience.


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