Foggy Weather, but Sightings Still Abound

fog research vessel big eyes whale watch

No observers on watch when there's this much fog! The big eyes are covered up, waiting for better visability. (Photo credit: Allison Henry/NOAA NEFSC.)

Day 7 – July 3: Finished up offshore line 24 and the first 50nm of line 23. Saw most of the usual suspects: striped, bottlenose, common, and Risso’s dolphins and unidentified Kogia and beaked whales. We were also in the land of some larger whales, having several sightings of sperm whales and even one breaching humpback near a sea mount. Today’s highlights were two sightings of Cuvier’s beaked whales relatively close to the ship. One group of three included an adult male, distinguished by its pale coloring. As this group surfaced just off the starboard bow, it was detected by both survey teams, so we all got great looks at them.

breaching humpback whale on seen by marine mammal scientists on research cruise

Breaching humpback whale seen by marine mammal surveyors on the NEFSC research cruise. (Photo credit: Todd Pusser/NOAA NEFSC.)

Day 8 – July 4: We moved north to some of our shorter lines that cross back and forth over the continental shelf break. Gone were our glorious flat calm sea state and unlimited visibility. We were back in the world of overcast skies, patchy fog, and intermittent drizzle. We can’t really complain, though, since we were inundated with sightings right off the bat. Our daily sightings offshore have ranged from 30-40 each day. We had 25 sightings within the first two hours of going on watch! Even with limited sighting conditions, species included dolphins (mostly common with a few Risso’s here and there) and  Sei, humpback, and pilot whales. By far the best sightings were of 6 different groups of Sowerby’s beaked whales (1 group of 5 with a calf, was sighted off effort) totaling 15, with 3 calves! All of these animals were within 2000m of our vessel, the Henry B. Bigelow, and everyone got wonderful looks at their distinctive long rostrums and surfacing pattern. Even more good news: the acoustic team is confident that they recorded the Sowerby’s vocalizations. Consensus between our onboard acoustic and beaked whale experts is that these might be the first confirmed Sowerby vocalizations ever recorded! Eventually the fog closed in completely, and we spent 4th of July 0.5 nm from the border of Canadian waters.

photo of risso dolphins with calf seen on research cruise during marine mammal survey

A group of Risso's dolphins, with a calf in the lower left corner. (Photo credit: Allison Henry/ NOAA NEFSC.)

Day 9 – July 5: Thick, thick fog all day. We acoustically surveyed along lines 4 and 3, into Canadian waters in an effort to find a break in the fog. It was to no avail. Despite being off visual effort all day, we still had a sighting! During lunch a group of about two dozen pilot whales decided to spend a couple of hours checking out the boat and the bongo net we were towing. Pete tried for a biopsy, got two hits, but unfortunately didn’t collect any samples.

Allison Henry, chief scientist

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