#20: When It Rains, It Pours

There is nothing quite like falling asleep to whale blows and then waking up to them in the morning. We had an amazing second day out on Roseway Basin and our third started out with dozens of scattered whales all around us. Some appeared to be feeding, so we spent the morning bouncing back and forth documenting as many whales as we could. We finally got back on our trackline just before noon, only to veer off of it soon after with more whale sightings. At one point we picked up two whales rolling around with each other, who we later identified as Catalog #3893 (a six-year old female) and #3570(a nine-year old male).  They were fairly preoccupied, so we were able to get a good close approach.

Catalog #3570 riding on the back of #3893.  Photo by Jessica Taylor.

Not long after we snapped some shots of our two SAG-ing whales, we picked up a sighting that every whale researcher dreads: an entangled right whale. We tracked along with Catalog #3946 (a four-year old female) for the majority of the afternoon, with a handful of disentanglement attempts. Another blog will be posted in the next few days with more details on the entire disentanglement effort and the whale at the center of all the attention.

Our first sighting of Catalog #3946's current entanglement.  Photo by Kelsey Howe. 

In the early evening we came upon a mom/calf pair!  This was really exciting since only two out of the 20 calves born in 2013 have been photographed since the spring in Cape Cod Bay, plus mom/calf pairs are an uncommon find in Roseway Basin. We identified the mom as Catspaw (#1632) and calf, the former of which has a unique sighting history. 

Catspaw with her plump 2013 calf in the foreground.  Photo by Jessica Taylor. 

Catspaw was first seen in 1986, but then went 12 years without a sighting from 1988 to 2000, so she was presumed dead for the majority of the 90s before being “resurrected” in 2000.  If a right whale has not been seen in six years, it is presumed dead until it is resighted alive or matched to a carcass. Every once and awhile these “presumed dead” whales reappear and with much glee are given the fitting status of being “resurrected.”  Since 2000, Catspaw has had three calves, with her current calf raising that count to four.  Her second calf (Resolution, #3532) was the first ever documented right whale birth, which happened to be photographed by our aerial survey team off of Florida back in 2005. It is also interesting to note that Catspaw is not a regular visitor to the Bay of Fundy (BOF), except during her calving years. Perhaps the lack of food in BOF this season has drawn her to other feeding grounds, which makes sense considering her calf is plump and sporting an incredibly large fat roll behind its head.    

After a long day of working whales plus some weird lighting, the calf looked a bit strange on our first approach.  Photo by Kelsey Howe 

The bizarre looking hump on the calf's back is actually a good thing!  Photo by Jessica Taylor 

To top off our unique and busy day, our last sighting before sunset was a blue whale. Since our crew does not normally encounter blue whales in BOF or Roseway, it took us a few surfacings to correctly ID the species. Blue whales are the largest known animal to have ever existed, measuring about 100 ft for an adult. We were able to identify the species by its small dorsal fin, which is located so far back that it was only visible when the whale fluked during a terminal dive. When we got back on land, we sent photos of this individual to Richard Sears of the Mingan Island Cetacean Study, an organization known for their long-term studies of blue whales. Richard was able to match this whale to a cataloged adult female of about 70 ft in length, who has been seen foraging in regions south of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (including a 2006 sighting in BOF), which are the typical stomping grounds of northeastern Atlantic blue whales.

Notice the tiny dorsal fin just before the peduncle.  The notch in the peduncle helped identify this particular female.  Photo by Kelsey Howe 

By the time the sun set in the west, we were exhausted, yet exhilarated by our day full of whales. We ended up photographing 20 right whales, with many more in the area (undocumented because our priority in the afternoon became the entangled whale.) In the last two days out on Roseway, we more than quadrupled our right whale count for the entire season, which is pretty cool.  

Stay tuned for our third blog from this Roseway trip to learn about entangled whale #3946 and our disentanglement efforts.


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