Saturday, January 26, 2008

Aerial Survey- 26 January 2008

The aerial survey team waited patiently for the winds to die down on Saturday morning and then seized the brief opportunity of calm weather to get up in the air for a survey. An acoustic buoy had picked up right whale calls in Cape Cod Bay the night before, so we were eager to find and photograph the whale or whales in the area. Right whales are individually identifiable based on the callosity pattern on their head. Callosities are areas of raised cornified skin that become covered in cyamid crustaceans, often called “whale lice”. Aerial photographs of right whales can be compared to a catalog of known individuals curated by the New England Aquarium. Once a match has been made to the catalog, demographic information on the whale can be retrieved such as the age, sex, and recent sighting history. Unfortunately we did not have an opportunity to match whales to the catalog this weekend. The entire Cape Cod Bay was surveyed in absolutely beautiful sighting conditions, but no whales were seen.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Aerial Survey- 17 January 2008

The aerial survey team departed the Chatham airport bright and early this morning, and headed eastbound. We flew thirteen tracklines east of Cape Cod Bay, approximately fifteen nautical miles offshore, in search of right whales. The weather was perfect for a survey, with low winds, great visibility, and enough cloud cover to keep the water’s surface free of glare from the sun. We saw quite a few humpback whales and got a really nice look at a fin whale. Fin whales have a very distinctive chevron pattern on the side of their body and the view from the air was quite a treat. We completed our survey and headed in without sighting any right whales. Even though we knew it was unlikely to find EGNO 2645 again today (the entangled right whale seen Saturday), we couldn’t help being a bit disappointed as the weather would have been ideal for a disentanglement attempt.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Aerial Survey- 12 January 2008

The aerial survey team was able to find another window of opportunity when low winds on Saturday permitted a survey flight. Three humpback whales and one minke whale were spotted during our initial trackline east of Cape Cod. We nearly completed the entire survey of Cape Cod Bay without spotting any whales inside the bay. In late afternoon we came across an entangled right whale! Unfortunately entanglement in fishing gear is a common problem encountered by right whales, and is the second leading cause of known mortality (the first being ship strike) in this highly endangered species. We immediately contacted the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies disentanglement team who coordinated efforts with our nearby research vessel, the Shearwater. Unfortunately, daylight was fading fast and the disentanglement team members aboard the Shearwater were unable to attach a tracking buoy to the whale before dark. We were later able to match our photographs of this whale to the database of known individuals. The entangled whale is an adult female, known as EGNO 2645. She gave birth to a calf in the Southeast last winter and was also seen in the Bay of Fundy this fall.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

First Survey of the Season!

The first aerial survey of the 2008 field season was completed today! Winter on Cape Cod is frequently blustery, but we were able to take advantage of the calm winds today to get up in the air to test our equipment and survey protocols. Taking off from the Chatham airport in a twin-engine Cessna Skymaster, our survey team was able to cover the entire bay before sunset. No right whales were seen, but the team did spot a large fin whale!