April 2015

Right whale EGNO3530, Ruffian. CCS image, NOAA permit #14603

Right whale EGNO3530, Ruffian. CCS image, NOAA permit #14603

April 6, 2015: Monday started as a beautiful calm day and during the entire flight the weather conditions were near perfect. And finally – the whales have arrived!
We started to see them on our first track lines in the southern part of the bay, and by the end of the day we had spotted 17 right whales.
Interestingly, only one right whale was seen feeding (sub-surface) today. Two of right whales looked to be in poor condition and a third (EgNo3333, a twelve year old male) is on the APB list which tracks right whales that are injured and/or in poor condition. The last whale of the day was found off Provincetown, and it was one of our favorites, EgNo 3530 “Ruffian”, a whale with a huge white scar on the back. This eleven year old male was seen as a juvenile with severe entanglement injuries but he seems to have recovered well from what was initially thought might be a lethal injury. Fin whales were entertaining today, gulping food and rolling belly-up. There were no whales seen outside of Cape Cod Bay. It was a busy-happy flight!

We would like to extend our thanks to the Massachusetts Environmental Police, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and United States Coast Guard for reporting sightings of right whales.

Right whale EGNO 1611, Clover, with calf. CCS image, NOAA permit #14603

Right whale EGNO 1611, Clover, with calf. CCS image, NOAA permit #14603

April 12, 2015: This beautiful survey day started with an encounter with – finally – mother-and-calf right whale pair! The calf was definitely in the mood for play, riding on mom’s back, making all kinds of funny poses with an open mouth, and swimming away from mom.
Mom (EgNo2145) is 24 years old and is the calf of 1145, “Grand Teton” who was first seen as an adult in 1981 in the Bay of Fundy, and last seen in Cape Cod Bay in 2010.  This is EgNo2145’s fifth known calf; she was first seen as a mom in 2001, and she was first seen with her 2015 season calf in December 2014. She has brought four out of these five calves to the CCB area.   EgNo2145 was feeding in the area and making sharp turns to maximize the resource, which created whirlpools of white water.

Next up was a group of nine right whales engaged in subsurface feeding; four of these were engaged in coordinated or echelon feeding. Near by we spotted another mom-calf pair –   the long expected “Clover” (EgNo 1611) and calf, who were observed by the NEFSC right whale survey a week ago, south of the islands. Clover’s calf was well behaved and very concentrated on mom’s nursing, interrupting feeding only to surface for breathing, from mom when she was on a break from feeding herself.
Twelve more right whales were found in the north-central part of the bay – as singles or in pairs, most subsurface feeding. The water was so calm that we could photograph some individuals while they were just subsurface and still get bbeautiful, high-quality images.  The other whale species spotted today included humpback whales, fin whales, and a fast moving minke whale.

 April 13, 2015: Spring finally seems to have sprung, with warm air temperatures and a decent weather forecast this upcoming week. After yesterday’s Cape Cod Bay flight, we took advantage of this good weather window and flew our Eastern Outer Shore survey, taking off early to try and beat the forecasted afternoon gusts.  As we were approaching trackline one, we encountered a lot of activity to the northwest of the start of the survey; lunge feeding fin whales, bubble net feeding humpbacks, and skim feeding right whales – including a mom (“Clover” EgNo1611) and her 2015 calf!  We sighted fifteen right whales in this area including another well-known individual, EgNo 2440 “Shackleton”, who is  the 1994 calf of the famous Wart (EgNo 1140), and who is easily identifiable by the large set of prop marks on his side from a previous vessel encounter.
After all this excitement we started our tracklines and though we did not encounter any more right whales we did see more humpbacks, fin, and minke whales. Unfortunately the wind picked up sooner than expected and we had to abort our survey after eight lines.

Right whale EgNo 4057, gear free and sub-surface feeding. CCS image, NOAA permit #14603

Right whale EGNO 4057, gear free and sub-surface feeding. CCS image, NOAA permit #14603

April 18, 2015: Saturday was quite the busy day in Cape Cod Bay on the research front: four platforms were out (three vessels and one aircraft) taking advantage of the gorgeous weather in hopes of finding right whales and collecting data. Today’s survey started in the south where we sighted 5 right whales skim feeding near the research vessel (R/V) Shearwater; one of these was our frequent visitors, Shackleton!

Also there was EgNo4057; who was spotted in 2014 in the southeast and in CCB, entangled in line. While this latest sighting showed that the gear was no longer present, EgNo 4057 still exhibitis injuries from the entanglement.  As we progressed we encountered thirty-two more right whales, most of which were sub-surface feeding and so more difficult to photograph. One of the thirty two was another individual we have been seeing lately, an older male named “Ergo,” and another was mom EgNo 2145 and her calf, who was busy flipper slapping at the surface while its mom was feeding.  At the northern track lines we also encountered large feeding aggregations of humpback and fin whales.  All in all it was a very successful day, and the icing on the cake was that the last right whale sighted on the backside was “Wolverine,” whose name had been proposed by our right whale team last fall.  The name comes from the 3 scars on its peduncle (caused by a vessel strike) that resemble the Marvel Comics X-Men character’s signature mark.

April 19, 2015: Day two of our back to back surveys of Cape Cod Bay, this time from north to south. We took off in the early afternoon, once the winds had come down. We encountered the same lively area in the northern portion of the bay as the previous day, with a plethora of humpback whales, fin whales and some right whales all feeding relatively close to one another. The sea state was far worse than the day before, but even with poorer sighting conditions and sub-surface whales we saw the same exact number: 37! Some of these were the same individuals sighted the day before (Ruffian, Ergo, Shackleton), and some were new, making this a very valuable survey. The distribution in the bay was similar to that of Saturday’s survey, as were the whale behaviors, with skim feeders in the southern portion and sub-surface feeders everywhere else; this indicates that the food resource remains the same.
Now we’re back in the lab to process all of our photo and data and look forward to the next flight date.