May 17th, Our Best Day Yet!!

If you’d asked me last night if yesterday could be topped, I would have said, “no way.” We worked around forty right whales and got three biopsy samples. At the end of the day, I would stand corrected.

Tagging crew aboard Boo Radley. Photo by Allison Glass/NOAA.

We were on watch by 0600 and launched the little gray boat and Boo Radley from the back deck of the Delaware II(DEII) by 0730hrs.  We’d returned to the same area that we were working yesterday, near the “BC” buoy just east of Chatham, MA. From the flybridge of the ship, we could see the water towers and make out houses on the beach.  So, ahem, being near the “BC” buoy means, “in the middle of the shipping lanes.” Uugh. During our few days with whales in this area, the ships coming through seemed to be complying with the 10kts. speed restriction.

Calf of right whale #2460. Photo by Beth Josephson/NOAA.

The seas were a bit choppy in the morning, making it sort of difficult to work whales. But by lunch time, we’d worked about seven right whales. Seas calmed in the afternoon, and we worked another handful of right whales. We decided to do a little survey expedition to the south, east, and north of the concentration of whales. We picked up one outlier to the south. As we headed east, it became clear that there we no whales close in that direction. We headed north, past the concentration, veered westerly, and came back into the area that the DEII was working from the north. We picked up a mother/calf pair that had already been sampled this winter but had not been seen yet in the Great South Channel. Then we picked up our second biopsy target for the day, Eg#1326, first seen in 1983, but never sampled.  As we got closer to the DEII, we had another hour and a half before we needed to get the Little Gray Boat loaded back aboard. We decided to continue a bit south, back into the fray of right and sei whales from that morning.

The elusive right whale Eg#1715 high skim feeding. Photo by Beth Josephson/NOAA.

As we neared the area, it was a sight to behold! The sea was flat calm, and there were right whales high skimming everywhere! They were fairly easy to work, as they fed through a patch of copepods in one direction, showing us one side of their head, and then made a 180° turn, showing us the other without us having to maneuver the boat hardly at all. A photo-ID person’s dream. Curiously, they were all different individual whales from the ones we saw that morning. We worked one, then another, and another, and then as we approached the next, it became clear to us that it was Eg#1715. We danced a little jig on the boat.  We’d seen her one afternoon in really choppy seas but didn’t realize that she needed to be darted, and we’d been kicking ourselves ever since. The crossbow came out, and we sampled the third whale of the day, all three whales known since the 1980s and never before sampled! OK, now THIS was our best day yet!

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