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.

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