The eastern survey is a unique. It consists of twelve tracks each three nautical miles apart, running from about as far north as Provincetown and as far south as Chatham. This survey is usually attempted at least once a month, but is not done as regularly. There are often at least a handful of right whales that are observed in the eastern survey that are not observed in Cape Cod Bay in a given season.
29 January. The first right whale research vessel based cruise of the 2011 field season was conducted on Saturday, January 29th, in over-cast conditions, with temperatures just above freezing. Sighting conditions throughout the cruise were 10 kilometers or better. During the cruise, seven of eight regular zooplankton stations were sampled with an oblique and a surface tow net. One special station within close proximity to a right whale performing long fluking dives was sampled using a discrete depth vertical pump. In total, 13 to 17 right whales were sighted, as well as one harbor seal. Most of the whales were going on long dives and two were resting at the surface in between long dives. The whales were scattered in small groups or alone, around the eastern half of the Bay. Photo-identification and behavioral data were collected.
28 January. We took off from Chatham airport around mid-morning, and flew along the backside of the Cape and over the Bay. Within five minutes of the survey, we came across our first right whale of the day. This particular whale was skim feeding and subsurface feeding just below us. We circled this whale for a few minutes, watching the whale feed along a slick in the water. Our next grouping of whales consisted of seven individuals right off the coast, by Herring Cove. They were subsurface traveling together and rolling around beneath the surface. There were also three other whales in the area that were not associated with each other; two of them were deep diving, while the other was subsurface traveling. We saw another right whale off the coast of Truro, that animal was logging, or resting, at the surface. There were a few other right whales in the middle of the Bay, as well as a fin whale and about 20 to 25 dolphins. Unfortunately, we were unable to finish the survey due to the lack of daylight. However, it was a very productive survey, with a total of 17 individual right whales recorded.
22 January. The PCCS Right Whale Research Program conducted their second aerial survey of the 2011 season on Saturday. We took off from Chatham airport in the late morning and conducted our survey in a south to north direction of Cape Cod Bay. The weather was slightly better than we expected, with the wind dying down throughout the day, providing great observing conditions. Around an hour and a half into the survey, we spotted our first right whale. This individual was taking moderate dives and appeared to be subsurface traveling. Shortly thereafter, we observed two unassociated right whales behaving in a similar fashion. While circling the third right whale, we spotted another blow. We then began circling the area where this blow was observed. We soon discovered that there were in fact three whales in a SAG in this location. A SAG, or Surface Active Group, is a social behavior often observed by right whales at the surface. The activity at the surface tends to involve a good amount of rolling and body contact. SAGs often consist of one female and multiple males, and are thought to involve mating. However, not all SAGs are for mating purposes. There have been SAGs of individuals that are not of reproductive age. Once these whales were photographed, we got back on track and continued the survey. The survey of Cape Cod Bay completed with a total of six right whales and one fin whale observed.
17 January. The PCCS Right Whale Research Program conducted their first aerial survey of the 2011 season. We took off from Provincetown airport, mid-afternoon, and began our survey in the northern part of Cape Cod Bay. The wind was blowing a little bit harder than expected, but not enough to hamper our survey efforts. We took our first few track lines to get back into the swing of things. However, we did not have long to get situated before sighting our first two right whales of the 2011 season! As we began to circle, we quickly realized that these animals were behaving exactly how we would expect this time of year, taking long dives and not spending very much time at the surface. This type of behavior makes the aerial team work hard to get the photographs necessary for identification. After obtaining the necessary photographs we rejoined the track line where we left off and continued with our survey. Unfortunately, due to the lack of daylight we were unable to survey much longer before having to land.