#23 Time Flies When We Fly!

It feels like Mother Nature is on our side - finally! The winds have been more moderate, the fog has been more of a rarity, and we no longer have to wait for frost to thaw from the plane before we can take-off. Best of all, there are lots of whales in the area. According to our team leader, Jess, we had a pretty slow start to the season this year but we are now in full swing. Just yesterday, we had eight sightings of a total of 17 whales; this followed our record day so far this season of ten sightings of 22 whales! The photo analysis of the hundreds of images from these two survey days will keep us busy during any upcoming 'no fly days'. As Karen mentioned in a earlier blog, the New England Aquarium is the long-time curator of the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog, but it may surprise you to learn how time consuming and challenging the image analysis can be.

One of our first tasks, when analyzing a series of photos, is to draw a sketch of the whale, as exemplified here in a composite of an individual known as Aphrodite, one of this season's mothers. This sketch includes all visible callosity features, scars, and memorable marks - all identifying cues that we can see from the air. After painstakingly coding each individual photograph, we can then use these distinctive features of a given individual to attempt to match our sightings against already cataloged whales. Identifying known individuals can be a bit of a fine art, and as such, there are some truly experienced 'master artists' such as Philip, Amy and Marilyn. For some of us, who are newer to the process, matching can be tricky and time-consuming but, ultimately, it is quite a bit of fun, too! Please try your hand at the Right Whale Identification Game for a little sample of how we spend our time when the weather keeps us grounded.



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