Thursday, April 24, 2008

Aerial Survey- 19 April 2008

We lifted off from Chatham and began in the south end of Cape Cod Bay. The weather was gorgeous with a calm sea state and we began to quickly photograph all the right whales we encountered on our tracklines. Over the course of the next nine hours, we covered ten tracklines and photographed 62 right whales, including three mother/calf pairs and the injured EGNO 3530. We are all anxious to spend some time back in the office looking at all of our data, so that we can get a minimum estimate on the number of individual right whales that have been utilizing Cape Cod Bay these few weeks!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Right Whales in the News!

Tune in to Channel 5 TV news at 6 PM or Cape and Islands NPR radio website:

and click on ThePoint for audio and / or the slideshow.

(that's my voice on the marine radio saying that we have 2645 and 3530 in sight)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Aerial Survey- 16 April 2008

We departed from Chatham bright and early and flew up the backside of Cape Cod Bay. As we transited north about three miles from the shoreline, the ocean was pretty quiet except for the occasional minke whale sighting. As we approached Race Point, we began to see much more activity… right whales subsurface feeding, humpback whales bubble feeding, huge fin whales gliding by, pods of dolphins, and diving gannets! As we began to circle the aircraft to obtain images for photo identification, we soon realized that we had a right whale in the area that was entangled in fishing rope. This whale was quickly identified as EGNO 1980, the entangled whale we had seen in Cape Cod on March 14th of this year. North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered, with less than 400 individuals remaining in the entire species. The leading causes of mortality are both anthropogenic (caused by human activities) - ship strike and entanglement in fishing gear. Since the survival of each individual right whale is so critical for preventing the extinction of the species, every effort is made to disentangle right whales seen carrying gear. We contacted the PCCS disentanglement team who quickly arrived on the scene aboard the R/V Ibis, and stood by to assist them from the air. Unfortunately, the whale simply did not tolerate the kind of close approaches necessary to cut the rope, and we reluctant left him at the end of the day without having made much progress. We did obtain thorough photo documentation, both from the aircraft and the vessel, which will greatly assist in assessing the condition of the whale and formulating a plan for disentanglement.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Habitat Cruise- 15 April 2008

Yum... copepods on tricuits anyone?

Well, after 20 years of vegetarianism, I ate an animal product today... copepods! They didn't really taste like much, just very salty.

The habitat studies team at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies monitors the distribution of zooplankton in the bay, and they towed at several different stations to collect samples. I primarily stayed up top to assist with the collection of photo ID data. Cape Cod Bay sure seems a whole lot bigger from a vessel than it does in an aircraft!

Aerial Survey- 14 April 2008

Due to the high winds, we didn’t lift off from the Chatham airport until almost noon. We flew up the backside of Cape Cod bay and found quite a few right whales off of Race Point despite the choppy seas. Documenting and photographing the 58 right whales that we spotted took so much time that we didn’t even make it through half of our survey area! Highlights of the afternoon included a sighting of Slalom (also known as EGNO 1245) and her calf. We also saw humpbacks, fin whales, white-sided dolphins, and hundreds of gannets!

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.

Walk out to Race Point- 12 April 2008

Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies aerial survey observer, Ruth Leeney, photographing right whales from the beach off of Race Point on Cape Cod (Photos by Christin Khan).

What do right whale aerial survey observers do on their much needed day off? Why, of course we go walking on the beaches in search of right whales...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Aerial Survey- 11 April 2008

We took advantage of the fair weather with our fourth survey in a row! Once again we found numerous right whales scattered throughout the middle of the bay, feeding both at the surface (skim feeding) and just below it (subsurface feeding). We even photographed one right whale feeding sideways! We also got a photo of EGNO 2790’s calf up at the surface between two feeding adults, really shows how tiny the calf is! We saw quite few seals- about forty off of Plymouth and another hundred or so off of Jeremy Point near Wellfleet. Photos of the seals at Jeremy Point revealed both grey and harbor seals, although harbor seals were much more numerous. The survey ended prematurely due to incoming rain and loss of visibility, so we were only able to survey the bottom portion of the bay. Even this short survey was enough to demonstrate that the right whales are still spread throughout the bay and taking full advantage of the rich food resources present!

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.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Aerial Survey- 10 April 2008

After seeing so many whales in Cape Cod Bay yesterday, we were anxious to go have a look up further north to see what we missed. Unfortunately, the fog dampened our enthusiasm for an early morning takeoff, and we spent much of the day pacing around the airport anxiously waiting for the sky to clear. Finally we got off the ground at 2 pm and headed up the backside to begin our survey in the northern part of Cape Cod Bay. We were rewarded with an amazing abundance of wildlife off of Race Point and Wood End… we documented 56 right whales in addition to humpback whales, fin whales, and dolphins! We also had our first sighting of a right whale mother and calf in Cape Cod Bay this season. The mother, known as EGNO 2790, was first seen with her newborn calf by the FWRI aerial survey team off the coast of Florida on February 3rd. Just as the daylight was beginning to fade and we were about ready to head back in, we came across EGNO 3530 (severely injured) and EGNO 2645 (entangled) very close to Provincetown harbor. We contacted the PCCS disentanglement team who raced to the scene and we were able to stand by and assist just long enough to help them locate the whales before we had to return to the airport.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Aerial Survey- 09 April 2008

There were reports of fog in the northern part of the bay, so we began surveying to the south. Very soon we came across a single whale, traveling due south. We then encountered a surface active group (SAG), comprising three whales actively rolling and splashing at the surface. As we continued on our survey we encountered many more individuals, swimming directionally just below the surface with their mouths open, subsurface feeding. A group of five whales began feeding in an echelon formation, coordinating their movements with one another. We made our way slowly through the southern part of the bay, stopping to photograph each right whale that we encountered. We sighted both EGNO 2645, an entangled whale which was documented on our first survey of the year and several times since, and EGNO 3530, the severely injured whale first documented early this year in Florida. We contacted the disentanglement team and photographed both whales thoroughly to allow for an updated health assessment. The disentanglement team arrived on the scene and we were able to stand by and assist as they attempted to get a biopsy sample from the entangled EGNO 2645. Unfortunately, its sub-surface feeding behavior and rare appearances above water made it difficult for the team to find the right moment to approach the whale. Throughout the course of the day, we encountered and photographed at least 55 whales, and only made it halfway up the bay! Reports from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies research vessels indicated that there were also right whales in the vicinity of Provincetown, so there were even more whales present than indicated by our aerial survey data! The total estimated number of North Atlantic right whales is less than 400 individuals, so we have a really have a significant portion of the entire species in Cape Cod Bay right now!
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, April 08, 2008

Aerial Survey- 08 April 2008

After a long spell of unfavorable conditions, we finally had some good weather and it was time to find out whether any more whales had made their way into Cape Cod Bay. The sea was still a little choppy, but we were hopeful that conditions would improve. Starting in the south of the bay, we swiftly began encountering whales skim feeding and sub-surface feeding. Before long, we had an estimated total of 35 right whales and that was not even a complete survey of bay! The whales were concentrated in the central and western parts of the bay.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Late Season Surprise!

Another late season surprise this year! The Wildlife Trust South Carolina team spotted another new right whale with a calf... EGNO 1632, also known as Catspaw! This brings the total count for the season up to 19 new moms!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

2008 Right Whale Calving Season

The final calf count is in!!! (assuming there are no more late season surprises like last year)
The grand total?

18 New right whale calves born this season!!!!!!

Thanks to all the aerial survey teams in the Southeast who collect this valuable data- Wildlife Trust, the New England Aquarium, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute!