Field Notes January 2018

AERIAL SURVEY 1/16/18

Right whales EgNo3401 (Tux) and EgNo1706, photographed in Cape Cod Bay by the CCS Aerial Survey team.
CCS image, NOAA permit 19315-1

Our first flight of the 2018 season was on January 16th, and we were fortunate enough to find right whales in Cape Cod Bay! We are flying with our new vendor, AvWatch, and now round robin our flights from Provincetown Municipal Airport (PVC) instead of transiting to and from Chatham every survey. The crew consisted of our pilots, Trevor & Craig, and observers Amy & Brigid.

We took off in beautiful conditions around 0930 and flew our survey from north to south. For more than half of the survey all was quiet, until Amy saw two blows to the south. Once we broke track and circled, we found a dozen right whales!

This time of year it’s common for them to be feeding close to the seafloor, so long dive times are the norm and this was no exception – we circled for up to 25 minutes waiting for some individuals to reappear at the surface. What was uncommon about this first survey was finding an aggregation that large in January, and the fact that they were smack in the middle of Cape Cod Bay.

We continued on our flight and found another two right whales slightly southeast of the large group- also doing long dives. After that we didn’t see any additional whales and finished up our track lines after refueling at Chatham Municipal Airport (CQX).

Right whale flukes, photographed in Cape Cod Bay by the CCS Aerial Survey team.
CCS image, NOAA permit 19315-1

Thanks to our new donated camera, Amy was able to take some stellar images and ID some of the individuals we observed. This included EgNo 1706- an adult female born in 1987, who has never calved to our knowledge. She has been seen in Cape Cod Bay 24 out of a possible 31 years, making her one of the most frequent right whale visitors that we know of. With her was another familiar face, EgNo 3401 “Tux,” an adult male who we possibly saw the most last season with us documenting him on 11 separate surveys from January through April.

We’ll see what the weather brings but we’re excited to get back in the air soon to see who else is coming to the bay!
-Brigid

HABITAT SURVEY 1/16/18

It was a cold, but gorgeous day out on the water. While we didn’t make our first trip of the season on our “Old Faithful” vessel i.e. ” R/V Shearwater”; thanks to our MAER coworkers we conducted a full bay cruise on the R/V Ibis (the iconic rescue boat of the northern waters).

The seas calmed down as the day progressed, giving us a fun-filled ride as we plied through the waters looking for the elusive right whales and the little animals they love so much, the zooplankton. We saw seven right whales as the day progressed and true to their nature during this time of year, they were being very elusive as they dove down to deeper waters in search of that yummy bottom layer of Pseudocalanus spp.

While the right whales had fun playing “catch me if you can”, the dedicated crew quickly gathered water and plankton samples to determine the health of Cape Cod Bay. As in years past, the main copepod (a type of zooplankton) in the Bay was Centropages spp. What’s interesting is the low concentration of zooplankton in the upper water column throughout the Bay compared this time of year in recent years. It appears the right whales know what they are doing and have found some rich bottom layers.

A big thank you goes to our awesome crew (Bob, Ev, Jenny, Kim, Alison, and Lauri) for making the research cruise a success!

— Christy

AERIAL SURVEY 19/1/2018 

The aerial team flew again today, and although it had only been 3 days since our last flight we were interested to see whether anything had changed. Once again, we surveyed Cape Cod Bay from north to south, but the ideal conditions of Tuesday were long gone. Persistent hazy conditions and a higher sea state made for more difficult spotting, but were still able to find 10 right whales!

Similar to Tuesday, all was quiet until we arrived in the middle of the bay. Brigid spotted the first right whale, and soon we were circling over a loose group of four individuals. Because the right whales spend more time below the surface, early season flights are often this way, in that we don’t see the whales until we are circling above them. In general, today’s whales were more spread out than the previous flight but they continued their deep diving trend.

We were super excited to see that “Tripelago,” EgNo 2614 one of last year’s moms was back in Cape Cod Bay today and is looking great! We last saw “Tripelago” with her calf in the bay on April 17th of last year, but the high cost of raising her calf had her looking thin and sloughy.  Although this is perfectly normal for moms, it is reassuring to see that she is looking healthy once more. It was also great to see “Presscott” EgNo 2271 and “Millipede” EgNo 3520 both who were regulars to the bay last spring and have been very regularly sighted in Cape Cod Bay over the last decade. “Prescott” is an adult male born in 1992 and “Millipede” is an adult female who gets her name from a distinct propeller scar that trails down the right side of her body. In 2013 she had her only known calf, and interestingly this is the only year since 2007 that she was never documented in Cape Cod Bay.

It’s interesting to see so many “regulars” in the bay and we can’t wait to fly again to see who else we find.

-Alison