April 2011

Due to the large influx of right whales in the last month, we were overly busy and unable to update the field notes. However, now we have put a dent in our data analysis, and are able to give a synopsis of the last month of field work. The PCCS Skymaster was on the ground for its scheduled maintenance for the first half of April, but when we got back up in the air the whales were waiting for us. We had been hearing about large numbers of right whales from the Habitat team on R/V Shearwater, as well as seeing them at Herring Cove and Race Point Beach in Provincetown. We have flown nine times in the last month. On April 19th, we took off from Chatham airport and started heading north up the backside of Cape Cod. It was obvious from the beginning of the day that we were going to be extremely busy. To date, we have matched 99 individuals from this flight, and we still have more to go! Nearly all of the right whales we saw were skim feeding.

Our next flight was on April 22nd, and it started much the same way, except we worked in a south to north direction. We landed for fuel at Provincetown airport halfway through the day. After take off, we had barely resumed the track line when we encountered an entangled right whale. We alerted the PCCS Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team, and continued to circle while they transited to the area. We continued to circle this individual for the next four hours, attempting to guide the disentanglement team, as they were trying to work around dozens of right whales. As the sun was setting, and we were beginning to run low on fuel (we had 15 minutes left), the disentanglement team was able to successfully remove all of the rope from the animal. We have been able to document this animal again on subsequent flights gear free.

Two days later on April 24th, we got a late start due to fog, but were again greeted by a massive number of whales off of Herring Cove Beach. Mixed in with these animals was another entangled right whale. Again, the disentanglement team was notified, and we stood by waiting for them to respond. We continued to stay with them until it was time to fuel. They were able to make a cut, but unfortunately there was still line on this whale at the end of the day. However, we have recently documented this individual on a subsequent flight, and we are happy to report that this whale is entanglement free!

We were back in the air on April 25th, again dealing with fog, but to date have matched 78 individuals from this flight. On April 30th, we flew a new survey area in Nantucket Sound and south of the Islands. We documented thirteen right whales in this area. We were then able to fly our survey east of Cape Cod on May 2nd. We documented approximately 50 right whales during this survey. Again, most of the animals were skim feeding on plankton that was visible at the surface. The following day we got back up in the air, assuming that all of the right whales had left Cape Cod Bay after seeing so many on the backside the day before. But to our surprise, we documented approximately another 50 right whales in the bay. Fog kept us grounded for the next ten days, and when we were airborne again on May 13th, all of the right whales had exited Cape Cod Bay.