Field Notes – January 2021

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January 31, 2021
Aerial Survey

We took off mid-morning out of Provincetown and headed down the ocean-side of Outer Cape. Conditions were great but marine life sightings were pretty quiet, so it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the southern portion of Cape Cod Bay working our way north. We had some ocean-effect fog limiting our view, so our southern two track lines were truncated, but it didn’t stop us from finding right whales!

In total, we found 31 individuals, most of these in a NE diagonal across the bay. Initial sightings from the track usually included whales raising their flukes when heading down on a dive, so we expected long down times and prepared for extended periods of circling while waiting for them to come back to the surface to breath. Luckily for us, about half of the individuals were surface active groups (SAGs), meaning whales were down for shorter bouts, making resightability high.

We had some of our old favorites like Tux (#3401) and Snoopy (#1056). Both are adult males that we see regularly here this time of year. Tux was one of the key players in a SAG where Monomoy (#4313) was the focal female with attending males jockeying for position next to her.

Monomoy was recently named by the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium (NARWC) and her name is based on her dynamic callosity pattern, similar to the shifting sands of Monomoy island, the sand spit south of Chatham, MA. Her name can also be considered a familial name since she was born in 2013 to Nauset (#2413). Nauset, another regular visitor to CCB, was named for her lighthouse-like bonnet callosity (similar to Nauset Light found in Eastham, MA).

As an eight-year-old, Monomoy is expected to reach sexual maturity anytime now. We would be lucky to know whether this SAG results in her first calf or was just a practice run; either way, it’s promising to see a maturing female in the middle of SAGs in hopes it brings new calves in the years to come.

The weather forecast looks dismal for the coming week but we hope to find a break soon to get back in the air and see who is sticking around and what new faces may appear.
-Amy


January 27, 2021
R/V Shearwater

The  new members of the Right Whale Ecology team  – Sharon, Qiyah and me, Natasha – arrived at the Center for Coastal Studies in early January, but thanks to winter weather and COVID-19 quarantine regulations our first research cruise aboard the R/V Shearwater didn’t take place until January 27.

Right whale flukes angling down into waterOur plan for the day was to head towards areas of the bay where right whales had been previously reported and conduct plankton sampling at special stations near any right whales we found. The morning started off as a beautiful grey day, but weather conditions became challenging as the day progressed, with building winds and seas. Even with the shifting weather, we were still able to document at least 15 individual right whales, most of which were about 4 nm NW of Dennis. The whales were taking long dives, with short surfacing intervals that made taking photo identification shots difficult. We suspect that several of them were engaged in feeding deeper in the water column.

In addition to right whales, we also saw several harbor seals and a breach from an unidentified large whale.

Our first vessel trip with the whole team was a great official kick off to our season, and we’re looking forward to getting back out there as soon as possible!
-Natasha

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