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.

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