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.

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