March 2014

March 01, 2014: This day the ocean was a little sloppier than forecasted, but even working against washing machine seas, we were able sight twelve right whales. They were observed taking long, fluking dives which is a behavior wesaw a lot of in February. It is thought that during this time, the whales are feeding on Pseudocalanus, a type of copepod that is believed to spend the daylight hours toward the bottom of the water column. It makes sense then that the whales would make these great fluking dives at the surface to use the weight of their large tails to help propel them down to the food patches at depth. Also to note, three of the twelve whales were observed pooping! Quite a ratio for the day and another sure fire sign of feeding!

March 04, 2014: What a difference a few days and lighter winds make! We had forty-four right whales in the Bay today, the most we’ve had yet this year! Typical of the behavioral divisions we’ve observed, the whales more to the north were sticking with their long, fluking dives, while the whales in the southern portion of the Bay were observed skim and shallow subsurface feeding. It was pretty remarkable when on our last line we came across seven whales in echelon formation mowing the plankton! Echelon feeding is a cooperative feeding strategy where the whales swim side by side and staggered – kind of like geese flying in a “V”. Should be interesting to see what changes in the coming weeks as the possibility for water temperatures and food types shift with the coming of spring.

Fin whale. CCS image, NOAA permit 14603.

Fin whale. CCS image, NOAA permit 14603.

March 05, 2014: After a very successful Cape Cod Bay flight the previous day it was time to survey for right whales were outside the bay.  Alas, none were found within the eastern outer shore survey area, though one fin whale was observed on a northern line.  Fin whales have asymmetrical coloring of their lower jaw with the right side being white and the left being dark like the rest of their bodies; the reason for this unique coloration is unknown, but it is thought that it could assist with feeding.  After today’s flight the plane will be undergoing its annual maintenance, but we will be back up in the air soon as the service is complete..

March 17, 2014: Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We waited until the afternoon hoping the winds would die down. Turns out the winds sustained. The team was able to complete three tracklines in the southern part of the bay. Despite the white caps, we were able to find 9 right whales. Many of these whales were observed subsurface feeding, but ultimately, we decided it would be better to call off the survey since the conditions were not very good. Even though we saw spotted several whales, we were probably missing several more because of the sea state.

March 18, 2014: Today, the winds were in our favor. We started in the north for this survey finding many right whales just off the hook of Cape Cod. There were several animals subsurface feeding right off the beach by Wood End in very shallow water. Most of our sightings for the day were in the eastern portion of the bay where the whales were observed taking long, fluking dives which goes along with the food our habitat studies program is finding towards the bottom. The team observed a right whale with what appeared to be an entanglement; this was #2810, a male born in 1998. We called this sighting into the Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team, who came out to get a closer look and assess from on the water. We assisted in putting the team on the whale and upon further investigation this whale didn’t appear to have a current, obvious entanglement. A bright white scar running behind its blowholes looked like fishing rope and the area around the tailstock had been rubbed raw. We will be keeping a lookout for this animal in our ongoing surveys and continue to document the animals condition and health. While there are many whales that are somehow able to shed entanglements on their own, there are also many whales that end up facing a much worse fate. Within the North Atlantic right whale population, 80% have wounds from prior entanglements, and the interaction between fisheries and these whales is an ongoing problem we’re all working towards trying to manage.

March 23, 2014: After waiting a bit for the winds to lay down, we had a productive flight over Cape Cod Bay. There were a few right whales skimming in the north, with sub-surface feeding whales in the western central portion of the bay. It was a long day, with a short refuel stop in the afternoon. After the fuel stop the winds decided to gust again, so it was a bit bumpy while we finished up the survey, but our diligence paid off – over 50 right whales photographed!

March 25, 2014: Definitely the calm before the storm! We headed out to survey the bay before Snowpocalypse hit Cape Cod yet again, and had some really great sighting conditions. It is starting to look like whale soup out there as we had 71 right whales sighted throughout the bay. And it’s apparently also zooplankton soup as the whales are starting to mix up their feeding behaviors. We were still seeing some fluking dives associated with long dive intervals indicating that there’s food at the bottom, but we also saw subsurface feeding as well as more skim feeding than we’ve had recently. Skim feeding becomes the method of choice when the zooplankon Calanus finmarchicus is in heavy abundance. This brand of copepod tends to concentrate at the surface during the day which is why we will see the whales traveling along the surface with the mouths open, skim feeding!