May 2010

5 May. The aerial team took off from Chatham toward the track line in our Cape Cod Bay Survey that runs 3 miles offshore along the backside of the Cape. Right at the start of our survey we found several humpback whales feeding. We continued on with our survey toward the Bay in hope of finding some more activity. We flew our entire survey in the Bay and found only a single fin whale. We are hoping to fly our eastern survey sometime later in the week, as well as another Bay survey or two before the end of our season next week. It will be interesting to see over the next week whether or not the right whales spotted the day before stay along the backside of the Cape, possibly move into the Bay, or just move onto other feeding grounds in the North Atlantic.

4 May. Clear, sunny skies made for excellent sighting conditions. Our half-day cruise focused on monitoring the zooplankton resource in the northern half of the bay, where copepod concentrations were highest on the previous cruise.

The northwestern-most station continues to be dominated by late stage Calanus finmarchicus, though their numbers have significantly decreased since the last cruise. The resource in the northern part of the bay is still generally below right whale feeding threshold and was the densest at the northeastern-most station. No right whales were sighted during the cruise. Sightings of one minke whale and two harbor seals were recorded, as were observations of vessel traffic and fishing gear.

4 May. The aerial survey team had an incredible day east of Cape Cod. We began our survey just to the north of Provincetown where we were met with wonderful survey conditions. We started off with the incredible sight of approximately 20-30 humpbacks feeding on track line one. As we continued on, we saw one right whale slowly traveling north. As we neared the end of track line one, we spotted white water further to the east. Although we assumed that the white water was most likely caused by humpback whales feeding, we decided to head in that direction to verify. Instead, we found 4 right whales in a SAG. We documented this sighting thoroughly and continued on with the rest our track lines. The middle of survey area was pretty standard, with a couple of cetacean sightings spread throughout, but nothing prepared us for our next few sightings. As we got closer to the southeast portion of our survey area, we started to see innumerable spouts. There appeared to be 45-60 fin and sei whales feeding in a small area. It was an amazing sight! We circled overhead for some time to try and pick out exactly how many animals were there, and this is when we realized that there were approximately 20 skim and subsurface feeding right whales scattered throughout. The surprises did not end there, the first right whale that we began to circle happened to be EGNO 1140, also known as Wart. Wart had been entangled since 2008, but was disentangled by the PCCS disentanglement team on Saturday! We are happy to report that this was the first sighting of her completely gear free. After seeing her for three seasons tangled in gear, it was wonderful to see her skim and subsurface feeding with nothing attached. We hope for many more sightings of this important reproductive female in the future.

1 May. Today the aerial survey team decided it was time to try out a new survey area. In the past few weeks we had been receiving reports of right whales in the Rhode Island Sound/Block Island area. In addition, our colleagues at the North East Fisheries Science Center had seen almost 100 right whales in this area the week prior. As a result, a new survey plan and transect lines were drawn up for this flight. Ten east west transect lines ranging from Martha’s Vineyard to Block Island were covered during the flight. To our dismay, no right whales were seen. However, we did see 16 basking sharks. Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world (second to the whale shark). Basking sharks are similar to right whales because they also have no teeth, and feed on plankton. Even though no right whales were seen, this was an important survey for us. Now that the track lines are drawn out, we will be able to complete this survey in the future, allowing us to document another possible important habitat for right whales.

1 May. The habitat team steamed out of Provincetown harbor under clear, sunny skies, no wind, and glassy seas, with temperatures reaching 16°C. Cruising and sighting conditions remained excellent throughout the cruise. Zooplankton was collected from the surface and the water column at eight regularly sampled stations throughout the bay. Preliminary analysis of samples indicates that the richest zooplankton resource is concentrated in the northwest of the bay and is dominated by late-stage Calanus finmarchicus. The resource throughout the bay is well below right whale feeding threshold, and no right whales were sighted during the cruise.

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