January

06 January: Our first flight of the New Year brought the good with the bad as we had both whales and weather. There were several sightings of right whales in the bay during December and this month started off no different. On Saturday we received a call from a member of the public who had seen approximately 7-10 whales in a SAG (Surface Active Group) visible from the beach in Barnstable. Knowing that the whales were in the area and the extended weather forecast not looking promising we took to sky on Sunday to survey the bay working south to north. Unfortunately, and in opposition of the weather prediction, we encountered high sea states and turbulent conditions. After surveying four track lines with only a fin whale sighted and the weather continuing to deteriorate we called the survey and turned back towards the Chatham airport, during transit we spotted at least four right whales in amongst the white caps making it a short but successful survey.

11 January 2013: The aerial team did a full survey of Cape Cod Bay, moving south to north. Our first right whales were seen off our third line. There were about eight individuals in the area either participating in a SAG (Surface Active Group) or thinking about it. As we moved along, we encountered a pair subsurface feeding, as well as some singles traveling along. Altogether, about 18 right whales were photographed for the day displaying many behaviors instigating the question of why so many of them are here so early – what exactly is the draw? A shout out to the three fin whales we saw as well, including one displaying some glorious feeding as the whale came up to the surface on its side with its white pleats expanded.

12 January 2013: The PCCS aerial team took off from Provincetown Airport around 14:45 in the afternoon after receiving several calls about a mother/calf pair off the coast of Plymouth. Knowing that typically our first mother/calf pairs don’t arrive in Cape Cod Bay until early April we were intrigued as to what could possibly be happening on the other side of the bay. After only a few short minutes of entering the area off the Pilgrim Power Plant the mom/calf pair was spotted and circling began. The plane was able to capture many good pictures of the whales and we were able to identify them as Wart and her calf! Wart has not been seen since 2010 when she was disentangled after being entangled for several years. Wart is also a grandmother this year. Black Heart, Wart’s last calf previous to 2013, gave birth to her first calf off the southeast United States earlier this year. A lot of questions are arising from this amazing sighting, and it will be months until we expect to see other mother/calf pairs in the area.

15 January 2013: On Tuesday, under steely gray skies the survey plane departed Chatham airport, midmorning, after letting the previous night’s fog finish burning off. We began the day by conducting a systematic directed survey of the waters near the entrance to Plymouth Bay looking to re-sight right whale #1140 (Wart) and her 2013 calf which were originally observed in this area last week and had been seen again from shore on Monday. Unfortunately the sea state in this area was high and neither the pair nor any other whales were observed. Alas, the survey must go on, so we headed east to begin the first survey of the season of the eastern outer shore. We were greeted by calm seas and an abundance of sea life. Two right whales were sighed involved in a Surface Active Group (SAG), much of which appeared to be happening deep below the waters surface. Five fin whales, seven pilot whales, and approximately 300 unknown dolphins were also sighted. Since aerial surveys began for the 2013 season on December 7th the PCCS Right Whale Research Program has documented approximately 22 individual right whales.

28 January 2013: Under gray skies with a snow storm brewing just over the horizon the PCCS aerial survey departed Chatham airport to conduct a survey of Cape Cod Bay. We started out the survey in the south and worked north. Since the Centers habitat sampling vessel, Shearwater, was also out today we wanted to be able to relay any right whale sightings that we had to them, especially feeding whales. Our day started quickly with two right whales sighted feeding just subsurface on our first few lines. At least one of these whales has already been sighted this season. Up next was a favorite, right whale number 2360, also named “Derecha” (the Spanish word for right) who has two callosity islands on the right side of her rostrum. She was all by her lonesome and down on long dives with short surface intervals, possibly feeding at depth. Not far to the north another single individual was sighted subsurface feeding. In this area the plankton line this animal was feeding on could actually be seen in the water. Next, and a little to north we had our final two right whales of the day. One was diving and the other was subsurface feeding. All in all it was a good survey. In addition four fin whales, one unidentified large whale, and 8-10 dolphins were sighted. With all the variation this year just can’t wait to see what our next survey brings.

The new mom in our area, right whale number 1140 “Wart” and calf were not sighted during today’s survey. Early the next morning, we received a phone call from a fisherman who had sighted what he described as a large and small right whale near Race Point. Low ceilings and a wintery mix kept us from flying to check out the sighting so the team grabbed our camera and went to the beach to try and catch a glimpse. A right whale was sighted amongst the rolling waves between race point light and the coast guard station. The whale was pretty far out, no blows were visible, not surfacing much, and often obscured by the large offshore waves when it did. So unfortunately we were unable to confirm whether this was in fact Wart or possibly another whale.