Wind, Waves and Lots of Whales: The 2011 North Atlantic Right Whale Survey Is Underway

Wednesday afternoon, May 11:

We departed Woods Hole Harbor at 2 p.m  into Vineyard Sound, headed southwest for a bit and entered Buzzards Bay through Quicks Hole, a  passage between Pasque  and Nashawena Islands in the Elizabeth Island chain that separates Buzzard’s Bay from Vineyard Sound.  The wind had whipped up Buzzards Bay, but we entered a calm Cape Cod Canal that evening knowing Cape Cod Bay, to the northeast at the other end of the Canal, would likely be worse.

Luckily, Cape Cod Bay wasn’t as bad as expected, so we steamed across and anchored up in the lee  of Provincetown, protected from the wind and waves,  for a peaceful night at anchor.

Thursday morning, May 12:

We peeked around the corner of Race Point to find a leftover six-to-eight-foot swell running in the bay.  There was some urgent work to be done, so we headed out from shelter to retrieve 10 acoustic pop-up buoys, used for localization and distribution purposes,  that were scheduled to “pop-up” soon –  whether we were ready to retrieve them or not.

Due to the skill of the officers and crew of the Delaware II and Protected Species Branch acoustician  Sarah Mussoline’s knowledge of the pop-up retrieval process, the day was a success with all 10 buoys retrieved by quitting time.

Todd Wilson sitting amongst pop-up buoys

"To catch pop-up, one must think like pop-up - Adrian. " Crew member Todd Wilson follows a colleague's advice to become " one" with the pop-ups. (Photo Credit: Adrian Martyns-Fisher, NOAA)

We were close to Wednesday night’s anchorage, so we decided to give ourselves another night’s sleep out of the swell.

WOman checks pop-ups opn deck of ship

Chief Scientist Lisa Conger checks the pop-ups, officially known as marine acoustic recording units or MARUs, on the deck of the NOAA Ship Delaware II after retrieval. (Photo credit: Sarah Mussoline, NOAA Fisheries Service)

Friday morning. May 13:

The visibility was good and the sun was shining, so we lined up on our first visual survey transect to the south.  There was some lingering swell, but it wasn’t long before we got into some serious whale action with congregations of humpback, fin and sei whales, and mixed bird species feeding.  By the end of the day we had logged approximately 227 individual marine mammals sighted, mostly humpback, minke, and fin whales.

Saturday, May 14:

As I write this, the sun is burning off the dense fog and we are gearing up for another potentially productive day on the DEII’ s 2011 North Atlantic Right Whale Survey.

Eric Matzen
Protected Species Branch
Woods Hole Laboratory

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