Finding whale heaven

We have completed the first half of our cruise which consisted of our acoustic buoy retrieval along the Northeast Channel. The passive acoustics group had deployed 10 MARUs  or Marine Autonomous Recording Units – read more here)  during the March right whale cruise on the Delaware II.

lisetbning for the buoy

Julia Luthringer (Hollings intern) and Genevieve Davis (right) listening for the buoy response. (Credit: Alexandra Keenan)

pop-up acoustic bouy

A  recovered pop-up or acoustic buoy, also known as a MARU or marine autonomous recording unit. (Credit: Alexandra Keenan (NOAA Teacher at Sea)

The acoustic team

(Left to right: Julia Luthringer, Genevieve Davis and Denise Risch – the acoustic team! (Credit: Alexandra Keenan)

We now have 6 out of the 10 buoys back: one unit was trawled mid-May, four units were retrieved this past week on the Bigelow, and one unit was retrieved by IFAW’s cruise on the ship the Song of the Whale. During the buoy retrieval we were blessed with calm seas, bright sunshine, and warm temperatures. Along and across the channel brought us pods of Risso’s dolphins, Common Dolphins, and feeding pilot whales.  Most exciting of all we had sightings of two blue whales and three fluking sperm whales. If that wasn’t enough for our marine mammal observers, we were also surrounded by Mola molas, humpback, finbacks, sei, and minke whales.

common dolphin

Pods of common dolphins were plentiful as we saw many species along and across the Northeast Channel. Photo taken under marine mammal permit #775-1875. (Credit: Peter Duley, NEFSC/NOAA)

(Credit: Peter Duley, NEFSC/NOAA)

After many attempts to find the last 4 buoys, we headed North towards the Northeast Channel, and have now started the right whale leg of the cruise. Our first day landed us in right whale heaven, with SAGs (surface active groups) all around and a horizon full of the V-shaped blows right whales are so identifiable from.  With rough seas out here, we’re relying on photoID-ing from the flying bridge of the Bigelow.  It was a successful day despite not being able to deploy on the smaller boat, with our numbers adding up to over 30 photographed right whales. Today started with another successful area until the fog came in, and we’re now back and forth with fog and sunshine.

Until next time,
Genevieve Davis
Research Analyst
Passive Acoustics Group, Protected Species Branch

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