Field Notes – February 2021
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February 18, 2021
Habitat Survey, R/V Shearwater
Over the last week our vessel team has been able to get out on the water to conduct several surveys of Cape Cod Bay, with three cruises last week (two on February 9, and one on February 11) and one cruise this week on February 18.
Across our three cruises last week we spotted 21 right whales. The vast majority of our sightings have been on the eastern side of the bay, scattered between just off the coast of Provincetown and about 6 NM North of Dennis. We primarily saw whales engaged in Surface Active Groups (SAGs) or engaged in deep dives.
Two of the right whales we saw in a SAG on Feb 9 were identified as #3295, whom we have nicknamed “Dinglehopper” and #3790. Both of these whales were sighted from the plane on the January 31, and Dinglehopper was spotted in a SAG during that same flight. “Dinglehopper” is an adult male whale first seen in 2002 and is a regular visitor to Cape Cod Bay with sightings almost every year since 2008. #3790 is an adult female born in 2007 to #1814. Back in 2007 our aerial team were the first ones to see #3790 with her mom! Since then she has been a regular visitor to the area, returning almost every season.
Our February 11 cruise was targeted towards sampling near observed right whales, and we were treated to some great sightings before the latest storm system started to roll in and it began snowing.
We spotted 17 individuals that were located primarily in the north east part of the bay, as far south as about 9 NM north of Dennis, and as far north as about 1 NM south of Long Point lighthouse in Provincetown. Our first sighting, just south of Long Point, was a SAG with three whales. We identified the focal female as #4150, an adult female who was first seen in 2011 by our aerial team.
Her two companions were identified as #2640 and #3298. #3298 is an adult male first seen in 2002 and a regular visitor to Cape Cod Bay and Massachusetts waters since 2008. #2640 is the 1996 calf of #1208 and this whale’s father is known to be #1270, who were both last seen in 2019. Throughout the rest of the day we saw two other SAGs, and several whales taking longer dives.
As the season continues to ramp up with more whales returning to the area, we are keeping our eyes on the weather and looking forward to getting back out there as soon as we can.
13 February 2021
We took off mid-morning from Provincetown to survey Eastern Outer Shore traveling north to south. Conditions were good, but there was little marine life activity on the ocean-side of Outer Cape. This is not unusual, as we typically find more right whales in Cape Cod Bay at this time of year- we spotted 31 in our last Cape Cod Bay survey just a couple days prior!
We found our one (and only) right whale of the day shortly after starting track line five. We spotted it at the surface as it raised its flukes, heading down on a dive. We circled around to resight and photograph it, but we did not see it surface again. After about 25 minutes of circling, we marked its initial sighting location and continued on our track. We did not have any other sightings for the day.
This was the first flight for our new observer, Sharon (me!), who took advantage of the relatively quiet survey day to get her bearings and practice data collection in the plane. The next week’s weather forecast is looking less than ideal for flying, but we are hoping to get back in the air as soon as possible and see which whales are staying around and what new faces (or callosities) we might see!
11 February 2021
Today was a bit of a wonky day. We planned to work our survey in a south to north direction; however, the weather had other ideas. We completed our first two tracks before snow completely covered the area, shutting out our visibility. We decided to fly north and see how far the snow extended. Luckily, clear skies prevailed in the northern half of the bay. We decided to jump back on our track line 8 and continue north. We had 5 sightings spotted in the eastern half of Cape Cod Bay off Truro and Provincetown. Once we finished track line 1, we still had fuel and daylight to warrant doubling back to see what might lurk in the area covered by the morning snowfall. Starting on our track line 9, we decided to work the remaining north to south, placing us closer to land later in the day, in case a refuel stop was required.
On our final six track lines for the day, we ended up seeing the majority of our whales. Many were in pairs or groups, and the majority of animals sighted throughout the day were in surface active groups. Anecdotally, we were surprised to see so SAGs are so prevalent this time of year. SAGs in general aren’t uncommon, but we are also used to long dive times as whales forage on a plankton layer near the bottom this time of year.
So far, in post- processing, we have identified 34 individuals, many of whom are new for this season. Among some of the new faces were old favorites Manta (1507) and Dropcloth (1271), both of which are older males. Dropcloth was in close proximity to another whale we were very excited to see – Derecha (#2360). Derecha, a mom in 2020, may be remembered after her calf was struck in the head by a boat down off the southeast US. With the chance for survival low after such a severe injury, antibiotics were administered to the calf in an effort to stave off infection. Unfortunately, neither Derecha nor her 2020 calf were seen again after receiving the antibiotics. We would be shocked to find out if Derecha’s calf survived long enough to wean and become independent, however, we are thrilled Derecha is alive and well and documented in CCB for the first time since being seen in the southeast in 2020.
Overall, we completed a full survey of Cape Cod Bay, if a little bit backwards, and got very important data on individuals! If the weather holds, we hope to fly again on Saturday and will initiate our newest observer, Sharon, to the rotation.
February 9, 2021
With the prolonged wintery weather we have been experiencing we took advantage of a very small weather window first thing in the morning to survey as much of Cape Cod Bay as possible on Tuesday. After meeting at Provincetown Municipal Airport at 07:00, we took off traveling north to south in ideal conditions. Our first line was quiet, but when we made it back to the eastern side of the bay we found our first right whales off Race Point.
This group of five were not all associated and did not exhibit notable behaviors. Our first whale of the day was EGNO 1715. EGNO 1715 is an adult male first seen in 1987 at an unknown age, making him at least 34 years old. From the catalog we know that his sightings history is relatively sparse- he has been documented just a handful of days per year, except in 2018 when our team saw him on six separate occasions.
The remaining four were mostly new individuals for the season with the exception of EGNO 3192- an adult male we saw in a SAG last survey. New whales were EGNOs 1409 “Cairn,” 3370 “Archipelago,” and 3999 “Braid.” Cairn is an adult male, while Archipelago and Braid are adult females. Archipelago was a mom in 2019, and we saw both her and her yearling (separately) last season. Braid was struck by a vessel in Cape Cod Bay in 2015, leaving scars over her blowholes (hence the name Braid), and she is seen practically annually in this area.
We continued on our track and did not have any other sightings until we were back east again off Wood End, where we found a low energy SAG of 3 individuals we saw last flight. By the time we finished working the group the call was made by the pilots to land because of the impending poor weather. Despite flying for barely 2 hours (and 4 tracklines) we successfully documented 8 right whales, so all in all a productive day!