Monica holds the vial containing the small skin sample of Derecha's calf. It was the first time Monica tried biopsy darting!
Monica holds the vial containing the small skin sample of Derecha's calf. It was the first time Monica tried biopsy darting!
Slideshow of 2009 Roseway Project
We will be in contact with the Whale House via satellite phone and look forward to giving updates on our surveys.
Safer Havens For Right Whales in Canadian Waters
Right whale necropsy on August 15
On June 27, 2010 a right whale carcass was found floating 50 nm east of Cape May, New Jersey and towed to shore for a full necropsy under the direction of Dr. Michael Moore from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This adult male had suffered a chronic entanglement around the head and flippers which led to its demise. Unfortunately, this particular entangled animal was not known to us when it was alive and we have not been able to ID the carcass as it was too decomposed. We hope to get an identification through genetic analysis.
The second carcass was found floating on July 2, 2010 off the coast of Jonesport, Maine. It had two propeller cuts on the side of the body. Samples taken of the lacerations were taken at sea by a team from Allied Whale at the College of the Atlantic but the carcass was too decomposed to learn anything about the timing of the vessel strike (i.e. if it occurred before or after death). The animal was a sub-adult female. Again, individual ID is not known but may be determined from genetics.
And now, this third carcass - determining the cause of death is still underway but there are indications of blunt impact at the skull region from a vessel strike.
We are very concerned about this latest rash of right whale deaths, perhaps all the result of human activities. Though the right whale community has made great strides in implementing protective measures for right whales, this job is certainly not yet complete.
The ultimate goal of a whale necropsy is to determine cause of death; since there are usually several possibilities, we collect as much data as possible. The first step is to measure different parts of the body as well as blubber thickness, which can help us judge if the whale was healthy. This whale appeared to be a fit adult male, measuring 13.7 meters (45 feet) in length with blubber thickness of up to 20 cm (8 inches).
Carrying out any thorough necropsy requires a tremendous amount of coordination and the funds to accomplish the job. DFO was integral to this whole event with logistical and financial support. With the help of Captain Stanley Stanton to tow the carcass, the heavy machinery operators who worked diligently to help carefully dismantle the carcass, the local residents of Gulliver's Cove and surrounding area who provided help with fensing as well as providing cool drinking water, and the hostel owners who cooked the weary workers a delicious dinner, we were able to accomplish this challenging task more easily than is sometimes the case. We are grateful for all the support provided.
Yan spotted a blow and exclaimed to the crew that he had a surprise for us all. As we approached, we recognized the distinct blow that veers off to the left hand side, along with the bulbous head, wrinkly dorsal surface and 'knuckles' forward of the peduncle. All in all it is a truly bizarre looking creature. The whale fluked as we watched, and we all expected to be waiting a long time before we saw the next surfacing, as sperm whales can remain submerged for over an hour. While we waited we dropped our hydrophone over the side of the boat, and were able to listen to the remarkable clicks that this animal was emitting.
1) Sperm whale at the surface - note the distinctive diagonal blow
2) Crew waiting for a right whale to re-surface
3) Sperm whale logging at the surface
4) Flukes of three sperm whales spotted in the Bay of Fundy
5) Sperm whale blow
Early on Friday morning, Moe received news of a right whale carcass on the Nova Scotia coast. Moe, Jerry (NEAq volunteer), Amy and I headed across the Bay of Fundy in Campobello Whale Rescue's Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) inflatable to search for the whale. We caught up with Phil, a Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officer, on a rocky coastline where the 43 foot male whale was found. We needed to relocate the significantly decomposed carcass to a beach with accessible roads in order to conduct a proper necropsy. The whale was towed to an ideal location, a large sandy beach only a mile away. Unfortunately for us, this large sandy beach was also ideal for weekend beach goers. To appease residents' understandable concern, DFO hired Mr. Stanton, a local fisherman, to help tow the carcass another 10 miles away.
Mr. Stanton needed a deckhand, and before I knew what was going on, I was in his skiff and headed to his boat. I notified him that I had limited boating experience, but apparently he felt confident in me, as he left me in charge of his 45 foot vessel while he tied a line on the whale. About five hours later we arrived at our destination. The locals were intrigued by our arrival and helped the DFO officers and our crew secure the carcass. The crew worked until 3 am to secure the carcass above the high tide line to ensure the carcass would not drift away over night. Final arrangements have been made, and the necropsy has been scheduled for Sunday. We may be one step closer to finding out who this whale was, and why he died. Stay tuned...
[Note: Other members of the New England Aquarium staff have responded to deceased whale incidents. You can read about another incident closer to Boston in this post from the Marine Mammal Trainers.]
Since our first survey in the Bay of Fundy last Monday, we have only been able to get out to the Bay one other day (Saturday). The wind and fog have been relentless, forcing us to stay onshore for several days at a time (Click here to view a blog about Bay of Fundy weather). We were able to survey in the Bay last Saturday, however, we were forced to come in earlier than planned after the wind switched from NW 5-10 kts to SW 10-15 kts more quickly than forecasted. Normally 10-15 knots of wind is not a problem, but the wind was blowing against the outgoing tide making the seas too rough to collect data from our small boat. Although the weather cooperated long enough to complete a partial survey, we did not see any right whales.
Whale watch vessels are an excellent platform for education and public awareness of the issues facing right whales. Similarly, Thursday morning, during a team meeting, we received a call from a local whale watch vessel who informed us there was a right whale in the inland waters of Head Harbour Passage near Campobello Island, a mere mile from our dock. The crew aboard the whale watch boat didn't have a camera, so we broke up our research meeting, gathered our gear and headed for the boat. There was thick fog as the R/V Nereid left the dock in our impromptu attempt to locate and photograph the whale. However, before the team reached the whale's last known location, the fog had closed in again and the whale could not be found.
We often work with crews and naturalists on whale watch vessels in the Bay to locate right whales and, as in Saturday's right whale sighting from the Elsie Menota, obtain identification photographs. In this case their efforts resulted in the confirmation of the first mom/calf pair of the season in the Bay of Fundy!
Our first day on the water began promisingly! As I was standing on the bow sprit gazing out at glassy blue-black water and trying to remember all of the things I had just learned about marine mammal surveying in the Bay of Fundy, I saw a smooth, slender, dark form break the calm surface and rise tall, with a forked tip. My thoughts registered this foreign shape as a right whale fluke, and I cautiously gave the right whale symbol to the crew, aware that it was unusual to see right whales so near the harbor. No doubt the crew assumed it was a humpback whale and that my amateur eyes were overly eager to spot right whales. I certainly second-guessed myself too, during the ten minutes we waited for it to resurface from its dive. But, upon surfacing we all cheered when we saw the characteristic callosity pattern atop the rostrum, confirmation this was indeed a right whale!
Our day continued in much the same way—flat waters and abundant wildlife. And though we saw no more right whales, we saw many other creatures I had only read about or seen on television: breaching humpback whales, basking sharks, fin whales, and a mola mola. My experiences doing fieldwork off the coasts of Washington and North Carolina had offered many other surprises, but never these sights. What a beautiful place the Bay of Fundy is--I look forward to discovering more about what it offers!
All and all, it was a great day for us to get back in the survey groove and allow the new crew members, myself included, to get use to procedures and protocols on the boat. The next few days are calling for bad weather but hopefully the whales will slip in with the fog and keep us busy all summer.
The team spent Sunday, August 1st, setting up the field office and installing the necessary safety gear and disentanglement gear on the Nereid. Moe, the Project's senior scientist, called the team together for a brief informational meeting and assignment of tasks for the day. Veteran researchers Monica, Jess, Amy and Bill were introduced to Marianna and Zach who are new to the Right Whale Research Project. The morning was spent working on the office, setting up computers, VHS radios, printers and checking camera gear, and sampling equipment. After lunch the team met at the research vessel and were briefed on safety procedures. New member Jenny arrived just in time for the safety talk. Then the team took a short trip to Eastport to fuel the Nereid for the next day on the water.
Claudia, returning for another season, cooked up a quick meal of lentils and rice spiced up just right. The team eats dinner every evening at a large table together in the kitchen, usually with candle light and always with good conversation. The evening was spent completing all of the work to be ready for the survey the next day. It was a great day of preparation and anticipation was high for the first day out on the water.
Why did we choose to spend August and September in these cold, fog shrouded and often stormy waters? Because every summer North Atlantic right whales migrate to these waters to feed on plankton, nurse their young and socialize (courtship). These two areas where the whales concentrate for several months provide us with the best opportunity to document individuals and new calves as well as collect samples for DNA, hormone and health studies. We are looking forward to an exciting and productive research season and we hope you will enjoy following our progress and discoveries throughout the season.
2010 Team members include NEAq researchers: Scott Kraus, Roz Rolland, Moira Brown, Amy Knowlton, Monica Zani, Jessica Taylor, Marilyn Marx and Marianna Hagbloom. Kara Mahoney will be taking a leave from NEAq education for two weeks to help us with our Roseway Basin surveys. We will be joined for the season by Yan Guilbault and Candace Borutskie from Quebec, Zach Swaim from North Carolina, Dan and Claudia Pendleton from Washington, and Jennifer Tennessen from Pennsylvania State University. Volunteers who help with research and field station renovations include Travis Tennessen (Pennsylvannia), Bill McWeeny (Maine), and Jerry Conway (New Brunswick).
NEAq Right Whale Research, Right Whale Catalog
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