#2 A lull in the weather of November in the Gulf of Maine

Three times a day for two weeks we studied the weather forecast and data on wind speed and wave height from the weather buoy in the vicinity of Jordan Basin. Day after day the winds were greater than 20 knots, and the wave height over eight feet: not sea conditions favorable for right whale research. On Thursday November 11, the weather began to look promising for the following week: winds were forecast to calm to variable less than 10 knots and the waves subsiding to 2 - 5 feet, almost perfect conditions.
On Monday November 15 we loaded up all our gear at the Aquarium in Boston and drove to Bar Harbor. We met up with the crew of the charter vessel, Friendship V, a 112' long catamaran used seasonally for whale watching and now geared up for whale research. Our first hours were spent unloading our gear, becoming familiar with the safety procedures on the boat, then dinner and early to bed. Departure on Tuesday November 16 was at 4:30 am, well before first light. It was going to take about two hours to get to our first trackline and we wanted to be there at sunrise. The day before, right whales had been seen by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center aerial survey team; at least we knew there were right whales in the area. Before we left we planned our tracklines to cover the area of right whale aggregation from previous years. Our plan worked well, well almost. We arrived at our first waypoint about 55 nm south of Bar Harbor at dawn. In addition to our team of six biologists from the Aquarium, we were joined by whale researchers, interns and naturalists from the Bar Harbor area. We set up our watches, spread out around the upper deck of the boat and watched with amazement as a fog bank engulfed us in a matter of minutes. Having steamed all this way, there was no point in turning back so we proceeded slowly, peering into the fog and listening for whale blows.

The visibility shrank at times to less than 100 yards, but then someone called out they had heard a blow and sure enough a right whale. Our first right whale was #2791, an adult female who calved in 2009 and is due to get pregnant.

By early afternoon, the fog bank cleared and we surveyd until it was too dark to see. In total we recorded about a dozen whales for the day. Fourteen hours after our depature we docked back in Bar Harbor, and were ready for another survey the next day. But the weather closed in again. The crew of the Friendship V made plans to relocate the vessel to a secure mooring early the next morning to prepare for the next storm. We managed to get our first survey completed on the only calm day for over two weeks. Our next survey will take place in early December.

Many thanks for a very successful survey to the captain and crew of the Friendship V and our vounteer team of researchers from Allied Whale, Maine Department of Marine Resources, naturalist and interns from the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company and Down East Nature Tours.

#1 Quest for the Right Whale Mating Ground

There are many aspects of the life and habits of North Atlantic right whales that remain elusive and one long-standing mystery is the location of their mating ground. Most right whale calves are born from December through February on the only known calving ground, located in the waters of the southeast U.S. We estimate that the gestation period is 12 to 13 months, which means mating likely takes place between November and January.

In January 2002, right whales were seen from a military vessel southwest of Jordan Basin in the central Gulf of Maine, approximately 60 miles south of Bar Harbor, Maine. From 2004 through 2009 in November, December and January, scientists from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC, Woods Hole, MA) recorded aggregations of right whales in the same area (their image provided below).

In November and December 2010 and early January 2011, a joint international research team from the New England Aquarium (NEAq) and the Canadian Whale Institute (CWI, Wilson's Beach, NB) will charter a vessel from Bar Harbor, ME. The team will carry out vessel surveys in this area to collect photographs of right whales for individual identification, scarring and health assessment as well as skin biopsy samples for ongoing genetics studies, and fecal samples for studies on reproductive hormones. Funding for the field study has been provided by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission (grant to NEAq) and the Canadian Wildlife Federation and TD Bank (grant to CWI).

Friendship V

The survey vessel, Friendship V, is being chartered from Ocean Properties who are providing additional in kind financial support and with rooms at the Harborside Hotel for the researchers before and after the cruises. With enough funding for four survey days, the plan is, weather permitting, to survey one day in November, two days in December and a fourth day in January. Ideal weather is a must, which means less than 15 knots of wind and a swell of not more than 3 to 5 feet, and less is better on both counts. Stay tuned as we monitor the weather daily to find a suitable day.

- Moe Brown