#23: The Rain Never Bothered Us Anyway (Roseway Basin)

After a two-day Shelburne respite from the open ocean, we ventured back out onto Roseway Basin on September 12th.  We surveyed the eastern side and it was very gray and overcast the whole day, without much to see.  Then, on the final watch of the day, Moe and Marianna spotted a whale blow and a shallow fluking dive: our first right whale on Roseway Basin this season!  It was a pretty big deal on the boat and immediately lifted the mood. Unfortunately the sun was setting when we first found the whale, so we lost daylight very quickly and eventually had to let the whale go without having shot the perfect photo series.  The important thing is that we were later able to identify the whale as Catalog #2350, an at least 24 year-old male last sighted in Cape Cod Bay in 2013.

Our very first right whale on Roseway Basin: #2350.  Photo credit: Kelsey Howe
Encouraged by our small victory, the following day found us starting in the same place where we left off the previous night, in hopes that our single sighting was not a fluke (no pun intended) and that more whales might be in the vicinity. And FINALLY some good luck kicked in and we found right whales almost immediately.  Our first right whale of the day was identified on the spot by Marianna as Catalog #2201, a 23 year-old male, who we documented last year in August in the Bay of Fundy (BOF). This whale is the last known calf of Fermata, #1001, the very first North Atlantic right whale to be cataloged. Fermata was last seen in BOF in 1992 with her fifth calf (#2201).  A week later, #2201 was seen without his mom, and sadly she has not been seen since.

The right flank scar helped identify this whale as #2201.  Photo credit: Marianna Hagbloom
As we were working Catalog #2201, we saw multiple blows and right whale flukes nearby. Unfortunately, squalls were lining up on the horizon and our sea state dipped from manageable to sloppy. But after a slow season hampered by bad weather, we were not going to be distracted or intimidated from doing what we came there to do. We briefly photographed #3191 (a male at least 15 years of age) before another whale popped up with a severe fluke injury.

The horrifying remnants of this whale's fluke.  Photo credit: Hilary Moors-Murphy
It was right around this time that the first rain storm hit. But now, with only two photos of a probably lethally wounded whale, we would not be deterred! The key is to stick the camera inside your float coat to stay dry and then whip it out just in time to photograph a surfacing whale. Yet no matter how hard we tried, we ended up losing the injured whale in the rain. We hope that we'll be able to identify this individual based on small scars on the peduncle, and that this whale is seen again so that the injury and body condition of the animal can be better documented.

The squall passed soon enough and there were other whales in the area to photograph: Catalog #2018 (Dalmation), #3701 (Eros), #2790, and #3934.  Dalmation, named for the white spots on his lower jaw, is a 25 year-old male seen earlier this year off southern New England.  Eros, an 8 year-old male, seen last year out on Roseway Basin, is named after the mythological son of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, the namesake of his mother #1701.

Eros surfacing close to the boat.  Photo credit: Kelsey Howe
Catalog #2790 is a calving female at least 18 years old, who was last seen in the southeast with a calf this past winter. It was slightly unsettling for us to not see or photograph her calf (since most calves are not fully weaned by this time), but it should be taken into account that our sighting of her was less than one minute long and the weather conditions were poor.

Recent mother, #2790, seen briefly for a single surfacing.  Photo credit: Hilary Moors-Murphy
Catalog #3934, a 6 year-old female, is the eighth of nine calves born to #1334. Her mother has a very interesting sighting history: with the exception of three sightings, #1334 only frequents the southeast calving grounds every few years when she gives birth to a calf.  This sighting history implies that she must go somewhere other than the Gulf of Maine region to feed.  However, it is interesting to note that her daughter has a more robust sighting history, including a handful of sightings in Cape Cod Bay and Roseway Basin.

#3934 raising her flukes high for a dive.  Photo credit: Kelsey Howe
All in all, we photographed a total of eight individual right whales that morning amidst several rain squalls and a rough sea state, but we all agreed that there were a couple more whales in the area that remained unphotographed.

Later on in the afternoon, we had two more right whales, both old males and familiar faces to this project. Catalog #1306 (Velcro) is an at least 32 year-old male with an extensive Bay of Fundy sighting history, and #1327 (Scoop) is an older male (at least 33 years old) seen last year in BOF.

Scoop (top) and Velcro photographed together.  Photo credit: Jen Gatzke

Scoop, lifting his ventral, left fluke lobe. The blunt, white fluke tip is a matchable feature. Photo credit: Kelsey Howe
As we were photographing these two whales, the fog rolled in. However, after reviewing photos inside the wheelhouse of the Shelagh, we noticed a small green line exiting the left side of Velcro's mouth. Fishing entanglements can be very serious and greatly impact the health and longevity of a whale, so we immediately went back to our previous position to try to relocate him for better documentation.

Notice the small green line exiting the left side of Velcro's mouth.  Photo credit: Jen Gatzke
Unfortunately, while the Shelagh is equipped with disentanglement gear, we learned from a disentanglement attempt back in 2013 that she is not the best platform to work from--she is too large and slow. Our colleagues up and down the East Coast usually use a small inflatable boat for this sort of work, so the most we could do in this situation was get more photos and video of the entanglement (similar to our documentation of an entangled right whale in 2014), especially since it was not a previously known entanglement case. Luckily, as we made our way back to where we had last seen the pair, one of them breached in the fog.

Either Scoop or Velcro breaching in the fog. Photo credit: Kelsey Howe
We attempted to better photo-document Velcro, but it was not long before the fog became too thick and unworkable. We had to call it a day and head for land, where we would spend the next two days at Cape Sable Island waiting for storms to pass.

We were so excited to finally be able to work whales and do what we had come all this way to do. There IS life on Roseway Basin and right whales still use this habitat, which is very gratifying and comforting. In total, we photographed 11 individual right whales in this two-day period, many of which were interesting and/or troubling sightings. It is never fun to find an entangled or wounded whale, but it is very important to document them because they exist out there, whether or not we know about it. The more we know, the better we can attempt to help and prevent these occurrences...or at least, that is the goal. And that is why we sometimes photograph through rainstorms.


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