Field Notes – May 2020
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May 4, 2020
The aerial survey team got out to survey again on Tuesday May 4. Our last survey of Cape Cod Bay on April 29th had only yielded one right whale which was outside of the bay and resulted in the opening of Cape Cod Bay to fixed gear fishing for the season. Today we were anxious to see if the right whales really had left Cape Cod Bay, and it looks as though they have. We did not find a single one.
Sighting conditions in Cape Cod Bay were fantastic, and we were looking at a Beaufort one and two for most of our time in the bay. Despite the calm seas, things were eerily quiet in Cape Cod Bay. In total, we spotted six minke whales, one fin whale and a large whale that we weren’t able to identify despite spending around 20 minutes circling and trying to re-sight it.
Outside of Cape Cod Bay there was a lot more activity which is typical for this time of year. Brigid got some fantastic photos of some of the fin and humpback whales that we sighted. We always send these photos to our colleagues at the Center so that the individual experts can identify which animals are using the area. It’s especially important this year since we are the only team out doing fieldwork, so we try to snap photos of other species whenever possible. It seemed as though the fin, humpback and minke whales were finding lots of food. Many of the fin and minke whales we documented were lunge feeding, while most of the groups of humpback whales that we sighted were feeding among bubble rings.
It looks as though we are going to be able to get out and fly again this week. We are hoping to explore some different areas and see if we can find out where all of those right whales have gone off to.
14 May 2020
With the right whales having left Cape Cod Bay earlier than usual, we were left wondering where they had gone. One of the areas we were keen to check out was south of Nantucket, where right whales are present to some degree nearly all months of the year. We were finally able to survey the area on May 14th 2020 and were very curious to see what we might find.
We had excellent survey conditions, but as we covered the area, we found a very quiet scene. South of Nantucket we only found three humpback whales throughout over four hours of survey. Since we had some extra time, we also flew our track line 16 which runs along the backside of Cape Cod, and only found two minke whales…also very quiet. Where did the right whales go? We don’t really know.
The highlight of our day was watching a litter of five fox kits living at the Provincetown Airport. Over the winter we had seen a fox in the area and were wondering if she was living under one of the buildings that looked like it had the entrance to the perfect den. We were right, as today there was a litter of fox kits lounging around in the sun outside of the den. Mom was nowhere to be seen, and was probably off hunting in the area. The five kits, who were already quite independent, clambered over one another, played and slept in the sun. They made us so happy when we saw them before the flight, we had to go back and get a second look afterwards. Brigid got some fantastic photos of the kits, and this was the sighting that made our day!
17 May 2020
Usually our field season ends May 15th, but this year is different like everything else nowadays. On this Sunday we flew track lines over the Great South Channel, an area between Nantucket and Georges Bank that historically has been occupied by right whales in the late spring. There have not been many aggregations sighted in recent years, but given the ideal weather we decided to check out the area and see what we could find.
We were happy to find one right whale: EGNO 2040 “Naevus.” Naevus is a 30 year old adult female (mother is EGNO 1140 “Wart”) who has had five known calves. She was sighted in the southeast during the calving season earlier this year, but unfortunately is not a 2020 mom. Naevus was spotted in Cape Cod Bay on April 14th by Peter Flood, but not by any CCS platform this season, and was also sighted by our colleagues at NEFSC off Nantucket. On this Great South Channel sighting she had mud on her head, suggesting she might have been feeding at depth, and was transiting south.
Most of our survey was done in ideal sighting conditions and overall we documented: 33 fin whales, 123 humpbacks, 6 minkes, 2 sei whales, 120 Atlantic white-sided dolphins, 32 unidentified dolphins, 10 basking sharks, and 14 unidentified seals. These include two species of mom calf pairs: humpback and sei. The crew has never seen a sei whale calf so this was a particularly interesting sighting, but to be honest it is always encouraging seeing mom calf pairs of any species.
The basking sharks were exciting to see since we have not sighted any this season. Basking sharks are the second largest species of sharks (largest is whale shark), and though they often get mistaken for great whites these sharks filter feed for food and are relatively harmless.
The fox kits were still active at the airport so we got to decompress before and after our 7 hour nonstop flight. Alison got some good action shots of the kits enjoying the sun. With June approaching fast we are potentially doing one more flight and will keep you posted with what we find.