May 2017

Aerial Survey 5/4/17
Alison Ogilvie, Observer

The plane was up again today to see what has been going on in the bay these past few days. With the calm winds and sea state, we had ideal survey conditions. There is certainly a lot less activity than we had two weeks ago, and things have also quieted down since the last survey on Sunday. We spotted 13 right whales today, sporadically spaced throughout the bay.

Today’s survey had a very curious composition of whales. Interestingly, many of the whales we saw today were likely juveniles. Of the 13, 6 were very small and we are unable to match them to known individuals, meaning they have probably yet to receive a catalog number from our colleagues at the New England Aquarium who keep track of the population. Why is it that there are so many juveniles still in the bay?

Those whales that remain in Cape Cod Bay seem to be finding lots of feed on. All of the whales we documented yesterday were feeding and many even had red tinted baleen from plankton buildup. We also continue to document high numbers of sei whales who are likely feeding on the same copepods as the right whales. The RV Shearwater was out collecting plankton samples today and confirms that the food concentration is still high.

Clearly there is still a lot of food in the bay. Why is it then that the majority of the right whales have left and where did they go? Is there an even better food source out there that we don’t even know about? There is clearly still a lot we don’t know about these incredible animals, but it’s one of the reasons we love studying right whales!

Aerial Survey 5/9/17 and 5/10/17

Having had 13 individuals on our flight over Cape Cod Bay on May 4, we weren’t sure what we would find 5 days later. Conditions on both days were ideal, but no right whales were seen either in the Bay or off the Eastern shore. We did find 5 humpback whales, one fin, humpback and sei whale, and a few unidentified dolphins, but it was very quiet overall, suggesting that the previously rich food source in the bay isn’t around any longer.

And so the record breaking 2017 right whale season has come to a close. But that doesn’t mean that our work is done! We still have thousands of photographs to examine so that we can identify the individuals and determine the actual number that visited the Bay this year.