Rough swells gave way to calm seas as the day progressed on the first Right Whale Habitat cruise of the season. It was a long day out on the water, with very little to report in marine mammal sightings at first, but the crew was determined! Close to the end of the survey, with daylight fading, a whale’s back was spotted and then a fluke. The first CCS right whale habitat survey sighting for 2017!
Two right whales were observed; one was diving deep, possibly feeding, and the other was travelling along just below the surface. Both were too far away to identify the individual animal.
AERIAL SURVEY 1/19/17
January 19, 2017 was our first flight of the 2017 season with right whales in the bay! We had flown three flights previously, two in December and one directly after the New Year, however, our team hadn’t sighted any whales thus far. While we appreciate the baseline data from earlier flights, we flew early in order to try to capture the opportunistic and anecdotal observations. Other teams here at CCS, and members of the public, have reported sightings of right whales in and around the Bay for much of the autumn and early December.
We identified all five of our whales we observed today and interestingly enough, they were all adult males. We found our old friends EGNO 1278 and 3401 (Tux) who were seen in the bay much of last year. Also feeding nearby were EGNOs 3298 and 3340 (Plover) neither of whom have been seen in the bay since 2014. Our fifth whale, EGNO 2750 (Haley), was the only whale not seen feeding during our observations. All five whales were located relatively close together within the bay, a few miles west of Wellfleet.
With the majority of right whales already shallow subsurface feeding, we hope it means the copepods, which draw the whales to the area, are starting to gather in concentrations that will translate to another record year of right whale sightings within our waters!
HABITAT CRUISE 1/30/17
The crew aboard R/V Shearwater cruised out to collect plankton samples in eastern Cape Cod Bay. While en route between two sampling stations, we observed a right whale approximately eight miles west of Jeremy Point, Wellfleet. We followed the whale for fifty minutes and got several photos of it as it surfaced, though it did not appear to be feeding. In the vicinity of where the whale was observed, we conducted a vertical plankton survey, collecting samples at 1-meter intervals, to a depth of 10 meters, also collecting conductivity, temperature, and depth data at each interval.
Based on sightings from the aerial observer team aboard the Skymaster, the Shearwater cruised further east to observe an aggregate of five right whales about four miles west of Jeremy Point in Wellfleet. We photographed at least three whales in this group and observed surface feeding and coordinated feeding among these animals. We collected plankton samples in this area before steaming back to Provincetown.
AERIAL SURVEY 1/30/17
Sunny skies and calmer seas made for an excellent day to survey Cape Cod Bay in the Skymaster. We have a new observer, Alison Ogilvie, joining the team this season and it was her first flight! Alison rejoins the CCS team, after her 2015 season photographing right whales from R/V Shearwater while working with the habitat survey side of our program. On top of initiating Alison, everyone was excited to see what was going on in the bay.
All was quiet for the first few track-lines until we spotted a right whale off of Great Island. We began circling and realized that there were six right whales and two fin whales all within a mile! We were excited to see that at least two of these right whales were feeding. We were able to identify EGNOs 3340 (Plover) and 3298 in the field, both of who had been seen on our previous flight almost two weeks ago. It’s interesting to see animals choosing to remain in Cape Cod Bay for a period of time, especially at this time of year. The two fin whales were traveling together in amongst this group of right whales, adding to the fun as we circled and photographed the group.
For the rest of the flight, fin whales continued to surface throughout Cape Cod Bay, and we even saw a humpback whale off of Race Point.
Back in the lab, we couldn’t help but try to identify some of the other right whales we had seen on the flight. It turns out that one of them was EGNO 3270 (Pico) who hasn’t been documented by any teams since 2011! She is a calving female, and on Jan 5th 2009 was documented in the Azores. The Azores are a historical habitat of the North Atlantic right whale, but is no longer a common place to find them in this post-whaling era. We’re very curious as to where she has been these past six years.