Overall we had a very successful cruise given the time of year it was conducted. March on the open North Atlantic is not usually very inviting. We spent the first two days, which were also the roughest, deploying MARUs (Marine Autonomous Recording Units aka pop-up buoys) along the edges of Georges Bank. Those buoys will sit on the ocean floor collecting acoustic data until they’re retrieved on the June cruise. We then began visual surveys for right whales in earnest, going to all the areas where right whales have been seen historically in March. Apparently this year was not typical. We surveyed the western and southern parts of the Great South Channel to no avail, though there were large groups of humpbacks and finbacks to be seen. We did find a handful scattered around Stellwagen Bank as well as south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The deck crew ran CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) casts every night throughout the cruise to gather oceanographic data.
The bulk of the right whales were concentrated around the tip of Cape Cod, in an area well surveyed by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS). Knowing that those animals were going to be well documented photographically by our PCCS colleagues, we spent just a day there and focused on collecting any biopsy samples from animals that we still need genetic data on. PCCS had seen approximately 13 animals in Cape Cod Bay to date that still need to be sampled. Alas, none of the 30 or so whales we photographed that day were ones that needed to be biopsied, but we had a glorious day right off the beach of Provincetown.
Though the weather was better than we expected, we still had some rough days due to high winds. We spent 2 days at the dock about halfway through the cruise to wait out an offshore gale and cut the cruise short a day due to worsening conditions. But the good weather outweighed the bad and, all in all, it was a successful March cruise!