March 2017

AERIAL SURVEY 3/6/17

Right whale EgNo 3823, disentangled in September 2016, now gear free. CCS, NOAA permit #19315

It’s been almost a week since our last survey, and we’ve been itching to get back in the air before our plane is grounded for its scheduled maintenance. Luckily, we got the perfect day to fly on Monday. Unsure of what we’d find, we are happy to report there are still a large number of whales in the bay. We had twenty one individuals photographed yesterday. Most individuals were difficult to photograph as they had long dive times, punctuated by very short surfacing intervals. As such we ended up leaving two individuals unphotographed as we weighed the need for fuel and daylight to complete the survey.

We had a number of individuals in the north part of the bay that were actively travelling north. Once we got middle of the bay, we found another set of whales that were all subsurface feeding. Later in the day, and further south, we found right whales skim feeding which made photo ID efforts much easier.

Our most exciting part of the flight yesterday was identifying EGNO 3823, a female born in 2008. On September 22, 2016, the CCS MAER team responded to a report of an entangled whale on the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. This entangled whale turned out to be EGNO 3823. The MAER team made cuts to the gear on her rostrum as well as attached a telemetry buoy to the trailing gear, and it was hoped that the cut to the line and the weight of the drag would allow her to shed the gear over time. But, it required resighting the individual to confirm. We’re happy to report that our sightings of her yesterday shows her to be gear free and skim feeding with another whale, a 32 year old male named Manta (EGNO1507)! We count this as a win for a population that is heavily influenced negatively by human impacts and we feel lucky to be the ones to add this sighting to the Consortium knowledge base.

AERIAL SURVEY 3/18/17
Brigid McKenna, Data & Photo Manager

This was our first survey since the Skymaster was grounded for its expected 100-hr maintenance. We were eager to see who was present, what they were doing, and where they were, especially since recent bad weather had prevented others from covering the bay.

We took off around 10:30am and started flying north to south because of the wind direction and gusts. Though the sea state was pretty rough we were able to sight two right whales on the backside off of Wellfleet and Truro.  We were unable to photograph one because of its long dives, but the other was a new whale for the season: EgNo 1603,  Polyphemos. Polyphemos is an adult male born in 1986 to EgNo 1001, Fermata, and has been seen in Cape Cod Bay pretty regularly since his calf year.

Once we were inside the bay sightings did not get any easier. Despite the improved sighting conditions the whales were diving for long periods of time and had short surface intervals. The aggregation off of Wellfleet has somewhat persisted, and we observed at least 6 individuals subsurface feeding in that area. One of those six individuals was a familiar whale, EgNo 1701, aka Aphrodite;  later in the survey, we spotted  EgNo’s 1317 (Ergo) and 3401 (Tux).   This was a particularly exciting find because through genetic studies conducted by colleagues at Trent University, we know that Tux is the offspring of Aphrodite and Ergo! It’s a happy coincidence of all three individuals returning to the Bay at the same time and we hope the prey resource is healthy enough to keep them here for a while yet.

All in all our two flight day (totaling in about 7 ½ hrs of survey time) resulted in documenting 11 individual right whales, though we likely missed some based on behavior. It was exhausting, but definitely worth collecting the important data on this critically endangered species.

HABITAT SURVEY 3/18/17

R/V Shearwater departed from Provincetown with crew Marc, Christy, Tim, and Melissa at 9.30am.  Seas were Beaufort 2, so we stayed as close as we could to the more sheltered Eastern part of the Bay.  We soon observed at least 5 right whales approx. 1-2 miles West of Pamet Harbor, all subsurface feeding.  It was incredibly difficult to keep track of who was who as various body parts popped up in different places while they fed below the surface. We were a bit nervous as these right whales were feeding directly around at several buoys, but fortunately we did not witness any entanglements. As we moved South, we observed two more right whales West of North Wellfleet, and as we turned around and headed back toward port we observed another two, possibly duplicates, about 3 miles West of Great Island. All in all it was a great day to see feeding right whales!

Aerial Survey 3/21/17 
Alison Ogilvie, Aerial Observer

Right whale #1603, Polyphemos. CCS image, NOAA permit #19315

Another calm day in Cape Cod Bay. We were able to document 19 different right whales, most of which were likely feeding at depth. These individuals were visible at the surface for a few breathes before fluking and disappearing out of sight. Calm sea conditions made it easy to see the whales when they were at the surface and allowed for excellent identification photos.

We continue to have high turnover of individuals in Cape Cod Bay. Out of the 19 whales in this survey, seven of whales had not been previously seen in Cape Cod Bay this season.  Interestingly, every one of these new individuals was male. With the exception of EgNo 2142 “Rhino”, who has only been seen in Cape Cod Bay once before (in 2011), all of these males have been regularly documented here in the past.  The new males were of all different ages and included EgNo 1801 “Sparky” born in 1988, EgNo 3960, born to EgNo “Slash” in 2009, and EgNo 4523, a youngster born in 2015 who has been documented in Cape Cod Bay every year.  This male influx in consistent with what we have observed in the bay so far this year. Of the 60 documented individuals of known sex, 40 of these have been male!

We also observed individuals that have been frequently seen on our surveys. They included:  EgNo 2401 “Tux”, seen on almost every survey this year, EgNo 1701 “Aphrodite”, a calving female, and EgNo 1278 who has also been documented in all 3 months of our surveys.  We also documented EgNo 1603 “Polyphemos” for the second time this week. This is a whale in very poor health, but fortunately the calm seas allowed for photos documenting his entire body, which is pale and covered in lesions.  It is unknown why “Polyphemos” is in such poor health, especially since he is only 36 years of age. The right whale community is concerned and will continue to monitor his condition.

With the season progressing, we expect to see a continued influx of whales to Cape Cod Bay, and look forward to getting out there to document more soon!

Habitat Cruise 3/21/07

R/V Shearwater departed Provincetown to conduct a joint habitat survey and MWRA water quality survey of Cape Cod Bay.  We observed 4-8 right whales about 6-10 miles West of North Wellfleet as we moved toward the Western part of the Bay but were able to photo document one, since we could not divert course for a better shot.  Hopefully the weather gods will allow us another right whale cruise soon!

Aerial Survey 3/26/17
Amy James, Flight Co-ordinator

The right whale team flew on both Saturday 25 and Sunday 26. We struck it lucky with the weather on Saturday and we managed to fly the Eastern Survey along the ocean side of Cape Cod. Unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky with right whale sightings. We worried we’d finish the whole flight without any large marine mammals, though we finally saw four humpbacks and two minke whales just before we started our last trackline. All in all, it was a beautiful survey, just not much to see.

The story from inside the bay couldn’t have been more different. Right whales were spotted near the Cape Cod Canal, off of Truro and even up near Boston! We decided to fly the bay on Sunday in hopes of documenting those individuals. Unfortunately, the sea state was higher than anticipated and we aborted our survey after flying five track lines, when it became apparent that conditions were not going to improve.  While we’re anxious to get up again soon, the forecasted weather does not look promising until, possibly, the end of the week.

Habitat Survey 3/28/17

With the cloud ceiling too low for the aerial survey crew to fly, the entire right whale observer team (Stormy, Christy, Amy, Brigid, Alison, Melissa, Tim, and our captain, Marc) participated in a cruise on the R/V Shearwater out of Provincetown Harbor. Although it was a chilly and overcast day, the seas were calm, and the wind was light – ideal conditions for a right whale research cruise.

The purpose of the cruise was to document the right whales that had been seen in previous days in Cape Cod Bay off Provincetown and to collect zooplankton samples in the areas where they were feeding. The team did not have to venture far outside the Harbor as they encountered approximately six right whales one-half mile southeast of Wood End. After taking photo-documentation to identify the whales and collecting surface, oblique, and vertical water column samples of zooplankton in this area, the Shearwater proceeded toward Herring Cove and Race Point where sightings of right whales had been reported.

The team documented another 6-7 right whales (including one or two yearlings) skim and subsurface feeding approximately two miles southwest of Herring Cove, also collecting surface, oblique, and vertical zooplankton samples. In this area, the Shearwater crew also observed humpback and fin whales, as well as groups of common dolphins and harbor porpoises. All in all, it was a great day on the water!

Aerial Survey 3/31/17

We had an early start in an effort to beat the line of weather coming our way from the west. We mobilized out of Provincetown at 6:15am and were up in the air by 8 am. We knew it was going to be a big day when we were in transit and spotted skim feeding right whales over 5 miles away.

We quickly found a number of right whales as we started our survey in the south of the bay. However, by the time we got to our second transect in the bay, we realized the weather was not going to go as forecast. We were hit with a large weather front coming from the West/Southwest and brought rain with the low ceiling. We worked to finish the track lines that we could all the while keeping an eye on the weather, but with a fast moving cell like that, safety remained a number one priority. We peeled off from photographing individuals partway through our third track line and headed back to Chatham airport before the rain and fog prevented us from landing.

In total, we saw photographed twenty right whales but know there were many more undocumented to the north. Here’s to hoping better weather arrives soon to allow for a full bay survey on our next flight!