January 2015

January 11, 2015

Two right whales in CCB

Two right whales in Cape Cod Bay, January 2015. CCS image, NOAA permit #14603.

Today Olga Shpak flew her first flight as a NARW observer!  The weather was clear in the morning with clouds accumulating during the day. In general, conditions were pretty good for searching whales; most of time the sea state on Beaufort scale was 2 or 3. We covered the Cape Cod Bay and adjacent area, flying the Bay in North to South direction. We encountered 2 fin whales around High Head, 3 more near Race Point, and 1 fin whale in the central part of the Bay.

Right whale on side in SAG

Right whale rolling on side, as part of a Surface Active Group (SAG). CCS image, NOAA permit 14603

Flying deeper into the Bay, we encountered a pair of SAGing* right whales, one of which, who seemed to be a subadult individual, was rolling and swimming belly-up. The second group of right whales consisted of 3 individuals, who were, probably, feeding subsurface – they dove for prolonged periods of time and when surfaced maintained an echelon position. All individuals were photographed to be matched back in the lab so that we can know who was here. Altogether a great start to the official 2015 official season!

* SAG = Surface Active Group

January 17, 2015: Unfortunately todays flight did not include any right whale sightings; it was, however, Brigid McKenna’s first flight with the aerial team! The survey covered Cape Cod Bay from a south to north direction. Visibility was great though a bit glare-y, but though the weather forecast predicted that the wind would calm down by late morning, it didn’t drop until later in the afternoon. The surface chop in the Bay made sighting conditions less than ideal, and areas where right whales were seen the previous week were particularly choppy. It was not an uneventful flight though; 5 fin whales and 1 minke whale were sighted in the northern portion of the bay, around Race Point.
All track lines were completed and pilot Trevor Laue landed the Skymaster smoothly.

January 21, 2015: What a beautiful day to survey – clear skies and calm seas at last! We departed Chatham airport and conducted our eastern outer shore surveys from a north to south direction in hopes of seeing some right whales heading toward or hanging around the entrance to Cape Cod Bay but regrettably none were seen.
More than 80 unidentified dolphins were spotted (species tbd), plus 6 common dolphins and a couple of seals. Two unidentified whales were also sighted. The habitat research crew who were working in the Bay aboard the RV Shearwater saw one right whale during their survey, and another survey team encountered more than 6 near Nantucket.

Right whale feeding in CCB

Right whales in the Bay. The open mouth of the whale in front is visible below the surface. CCS image, NOAA permit 14603.

January 23, 2015: Today we flew a Cape Cod Bay survey. The weather was clear, but slightly windy, and the white caps are not our best friends when it comes to whale spotting and photography. Nonetheless, we found 5 right whales: one of them off the back of Cape Cod, in the ocean heading south, and the rest in the southern part of the bay.

EgNo1278 fluke

Fluke of right whale EgNo 1278. CCS image, NOAA permit 14603.

The first whale though – the one outside the Bay – wasn’t a newcomer; right whale EgNo 1278 was seen by our interns in the central part of the Bay two days before our flight.
That made us wonder why he left the Bay; where was he headed? Was there something in there he didn’t like? The other 5 whales in the southern part were subsurface-feeding, seemingly satisfied with what the bay had to offer.
There were more beautiful large whales in the area; we also saw 8 (!) fin whales, some off Race Point, and 2 deep in the Bay. The ones in the Bay were exhibiting some unusual behavior; they were racing, half body coming out of water, just as dolphins and porpoises do. Not a bad sighting day for January!