Friday, March 28, 2008

Aerial Survey- 27 March 2008

We began our survey bright and early so that we could finish before the incoming afternoon rain. We began in the south end of Cape Cod bay and soon came upon a group of two right whales. Initially the whales were subsurface feeding, but as we circled above them taking photographs and collecting behavioral data, they formed a surface active group (SAG) and began to splash and roll around at the surface. Further north, just west of the center of the bay, we came upon a concentration of another ten right whales, all engaged in long dives. We were shocked to discover EGNO 3530 among them… this whale was last seen a few months ago off the coast of Florida severely injured. We alerted the disentanglement team and were able to photograph the whale thoroughly to aid in a health assessment of the whale’s condition. We ended our survey early due to the incoming rain.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Aerial Survey- 24 March 2008

A right whale upside down, showing off the brilliant white pattern on it's belly (head is toward the top). Photo by Christin Khan, PCCS.

A right whale surface active group (SAG) with two whales rolling around. Photo by Christin Khan, PCCS.

A rare glimpse of a right whale's eye as it rolls during a SAG in Cape Cod Bay. Photo by Christin Khan, PCCS.

Departing from Chatham, we flew up the backside of Cape Cod where we saw fin, humpback, and minke whales! Coming into the bay, we found first one right whale and then another… all aggregated northeast of the center of the bay. Many of the whales were going on long dives, remaining submerged for fifteen minutes or more! We also saw several right whale surface active groups (SAGs), including one upside down whale with a brilliant white pattern on it’s belly.

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Grantwriting Workshop

I just returned from a two-day grantwriting workshop which was a good start on my goal to get a few grant proposals out this year...

"Cape Cod Community College, WERC and the American Grant Academy present a professional grant writing workshop March 18-19 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the college (North Building Rm. 117). This intensive two-day grantwriting workshop is designed for beginners and intermediate grant writers who would like an overview, introduction and/or refresher to strengthen their grant writing skills. All participants will receive certification in professional grant writing from the Academy. "

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Aerial Survey- 14 March 2008

Christin Khan (left) and Kate Longley (right) relay information about the whale's position to the team aboard the R/V Ibis during a disentanglement attempt Friday.

Aerial view of Cape Cod taken during transit up the coast.

We began our aerial survey at the northern end of Cape Cod Bay and flew several track lines without a right whale in sight, although we did see a fin whale and two minke whales. Then we came upon the aggregation of right whales, clumped closely together off of Wood End in Provincetown. The whales were engaged in a variety of behaviors, but most were fluking up and remaining submerged for long periods of time, behavior indicative of foraging at depth. Among these right whales was “Wart” (also known as EGNO 1140), an adult female we have seen in the bay several times this month entangled in fishing rope. We contacted the PCCS disentanglement team who was able to remove some of the trailing rope to minimize the chances of it getting caught further on her flukes or flippers. After assisting with the disentanglement effort, we returned to the Chatham airport to refuel. Once we arrived back in the bay, we continued to document the right whales in the area, and came upon yet another entangled right whale. Luckily, the disentanglement team was still on the water and they were quickly on the scene. The whale was identified as EGNO 1980, an adult male right whale, and the disentanglement team was able to better assess his health and document his entanglement. There was a noticeable change in the behavior of the right whales in the bay as the afternoon progressed, with more and more whales beginning to skim feed at the surface- quite a sight!

Thursday, March 13, 2008 Article about Entanglements

2 right whales spotted with rope tangled in mouths

By Globe Staff
March 13, 2008

"Scientists today are continuing to monitor two female right whales off Cape Cod that were spotted earlier this week with rope tangled in their mouths.

The entanglement is “relatively mild” and because the rope is not wrapped around other body parts, “no immediate threat exists,” according to a press release from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Both of the whales are breeding females, which are particularly valuable because there are less than 400 still alive. “They help this critically endangered species recover by reproducing and thus adding to the population,” said Tanya Gabettie, a spokesperson for the Center for Coastal Studies, in an e-mail.

An aerial survey team noticed the first whale Tuesday afternoon during a routine flyover of Cape Cod Bay. The whale, which researchers know by the number 2645, was diving and feeding with at least 10 other whales. The Center for Coastal Studies sent a disentanglement team in a boat to get a closer look.

The team noticed another whale, which is know by the nickname Wart, that also had rope caught in its jaws. Both whales appeared to be feeding normally, despite the rope. However, scars on the whales indicated that the entanglement was once more severe, officials said.

This year that have been four reported right whale entanglements off the East Coast, including the pair spotted Tuesday."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Aerial Survey- 11 March 2008

We took off from Chatham this morning with high hopes for beautiful weather out on Cape Cod Bay. As we began our survey in the southern portion of the bay, we were disappointed to see that the winds were not as calm as predicted. With a Beaufort Sea State of 5, it can be very difficult to reliably detect right whales amidst all of the white caps and frothy water. Just as we were about to call it a day and head back in, the winds finally started to settle down. We completed our first seven tracklines without seeing a single marine mammal. About two-thirds of the way through our eighth trackline, we broke track for a sighting of two right whales. We soon realized that there was a large concentration of right whales clumped in small geographical area. We began to make our way from whale to whale, systematically documenting the location and behavior of each whale, and obtaining photographs for identification. The whales were engaged in a variety of behaviors including subsurface feeding and SAGs. With so much activity in the bay, we decided to land to refuel the airplane midway through our flight. When we reached the bay again, we were thrilled to see that the winds had dropped and the water was calm. We headed straight into the group of whales to make sure we hadn’t overlooked any of them, and came upon a right whale with rope trailing out of the baleen and alongside the body. We immediately began to document the details of the entanglement and contacted the PCCS Disentanglement Team. The whale was recognized as EGNO 2645, the whale we had seen entangled in Cape Cod Bay on January 12th. The rest of the afternoon was spent photographing the entangled whale and assisting in the disentanglement effort. At one point, while searching the area for EGNO 2645 amidst all the other right whales, we were alarmed to realize that we had a second entangled right whale in the area. The whale was soon recognized as EGNO 1140 (also known as “Wart”) who we had seen entangled in the bay last Thursday. Efforts throughout the afternoon resulting in getting thorough photo documentation of each entangled whale, and the disentanglement team aboard R/V Ibis was able to get a sample of the rope attached to EGNO 2645.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cape Cod Natural History Conference

This Saturday, I attended the 13th Annual Cape Cod Natural History Conference, which was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the ecology of Cape Cod as well as connect with friends and colleagues.

From the Cape Cod Community College website:
"Is a tiny, native crab responsible for the decline of salt marshes on Cape Cod? How does human activity affect shorebirds on South Beach in Chatham? Will salt marsh restoration projects affect the population of four-toed salamanders? Do wind turbines pose a threat to bats on Cape Cod? Questions like these will be explored at the 13th Annual Cape Cod Natural History Conference on Saturday, March 8, 2008 from 9 AM to 4 PM. The conference will be held at the Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, and is sponsored by the Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and the Environmental Technology Program at Cape Cod Community College. Now in its thirteenth year, the conference allows environmental organizations to learn about each other’s research and to exchange ideas. At the same time, it is an opportunity for the public to learn first hand about some compelling subjects relating to Cape Cod’s ecology, natural history, and conservation."

Sunday, March 09, 2008

R/V Shearwater

During our last aerial survey, I had an opportunity to get a photograph of the PCCS research vessel, Shearwater. The right whale habitat team aboard Shearwater was out collecting plankton samples to gain a better understanding of the right whale foraging habitat in Cape Cod Bay.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Aerial Survey- 06 March 2008

An adult North Atlantic right whale "posturing" with both the head and tail out of the water. Photo by Christin Khan, PCCS.

We began our survey today by flying up the coastline on the backside of Cape Cod where we encountered one lone minke whale. We entered Cape Cod Bay from the North and began to make our way down through the bay searching for the telltale signs of right whales. Soon we spotted a single adult right whale. No sooner had we photographed that whale, when we came across another single right whale. Ten minutes later, there was a third right whale! This one seemed to be traveling somewhere in a hurry, and we soon saw lots of surface activity up ahead… the whale was racing toward another group of right whale engaged in a surface active group (SAG). The whales were rolling and splashing at the surface, and one whale was belly up. As we circled the aircraft around the group of whales trying to determine how many individuals were involved in the SAG and obtain ID photographs, we came across another right whale swimming alone nearby, and then another! Clearly this small geographic area was a hotspot for right whales today. Unfortunately, the last whale we saw had fishing rope trailing out of the left side of her mouth… we immediately abandoned our survey effort and focused our attention on the entangled right whale. We contacted the PCCS disentanglement team who raced to the scene. We were able to track the entangled whale for several hours, but the whale’s evasive behavior and fading daylight did not permit the attachment of a tracking buoy.

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Getting Around!

I just identified this whale from our survey flight last Friday afternoon. The whale is EGNO 2614, an adult female that gave birth to her second calf last winter. She was just seen in December off the coast of Florida by the New England Aquarium aerial survey team! I guess it should come as no surprise that she made her way up to Cape Cod Bay a few months later.

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Aerial Survey- 29 February 2008

The winds calmed down enough by late morning to permit another survey of Cape Cod Bay. During the course of our flight, we located and photographed five individual right whales, by far the most we’ve seen inside the bay this season! All of the right whales were located in the central portion of the bay, but they did not appear to be associated with one another. One of the whales looked very familiar, and turned out to be EGNO 1503, the adult female we had seen in the bay about a week ago! The other four whales all appear to be newcomers.

One of the ways to distinguish a right whale from other large whales is their characteristic v-shaped blow, as seen in the image above from our flight on Friday.

I also included a little self-portrait of our survey plane in flight, taken out of the side window.

Right whale photo taken under Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies NOAA Fisheries permit 633-1763, under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.