Fog, then heavy seas, and finally a few whale sightings

Greetings from the Gordon Gunter,
Just wanted to check in and give you a brief summary of the cruise so far. Our original departure date and time was delayed from 4/29 to 4/30 due to a combination of factors.

4/30:  We departed at 8:00 (sans internet) and headed out to Vineyard Sound where we successfully launched and retrieved both small boats and did a test cast with our oceanographic sampling system. The WHOI scientists were able to test all their equipment and make sure that they’re ready to go.  The NEFSC scientists were able to go through all their protocols and equipment and train those who are new to this type of survey. David Morin went through his Level 1 Disentanglement Training presentation for all the scientists. So, now all the folks who will be looking for and at a whale will know what to look for and how to document and assess potential entanglements.

5/1:  Fog. And more fog. We deployed one of five MARU (pop-up) buoys first thing in the morning. Then transited through fog to the southern point of the Great South Channel and began running east/west survey lines across. In the fog. Did I mention it was foggy? Needless to say we didn’t see much other than fog… We tested the oceanographic cage again in deeper water. Also, Tony, the ET made the necessary repairs to get the Internet up and running again.

A fog blanket  May 1 over Cape Cod and nearby waters, taken from the NEFSC;'s aerial survey airplane, a NOAA Twin Otter.  Credit: Christin Khan, NEFSC.NOAA

A fog blanket May 1 over Cape Cod and nearby waters, taken from the NEFSC’s aerial survey airplane, a NOAA Twin Otter. Credit: Christin Khan, NEFSC.NOAA

5/2: Fog is gone!! Couldn’t ask for better sighting conditions. We are still running east/west lines across the channel and so far have had a few sightings of fin whales and sei whales and several small groups of white-sided dolphins. The aerial survey plane is up so hopefully one or both of us will come across some right whales soon.

5/2 (continued): We finished running west and began following the 50 fathom contour line on the western side of the Great South Channel (GSC) north. We found an area with a few right whales and decided to launch the small boats. Given how our luck as gone so far, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the seas picked up shortly after launching. But the whales were very cooperative – 1 breaching, lobtailing, and rolling around and 4 in a Surface Active Group (SAG) – so we were able to photograph them relatively quickly.  The WHOI tagging boat moved in for some attempts, but with the seas and whales’ behavior, weren’t able to get a tag on. We were also able to collect a poop sample from the SAG that will be sent to the New England Aquarium for hormone analysis.

Right whale " Silver"

The NEFSC aerial survey team was able to observe a Surface Active Group (SAG) of right whales May 2.  One of those whales, known as “Silver”, was named for the missing left part of his fluke. Photo credit: Jennifer Gatzke, NEFSC/NOAA

"Silver"

Closer view of North Atlantic right whale known as “Silver”. Photo credit:   Jennifer Gatzke, NEFSC/NOAA.

May 3 and May 4:   Big seas and general misery. We had 10+ foot seas for these two days. Needless to say there were some casualties to sea sickness and I’ll admit that I was one of them. But we still made the most of it and were able to run south and deploy the 4 remaining pop-ups. Luckily our Acoustician (Samara Haver) and some of the other scientific staff are made of hardier stuff than I…

We are currently running north on the 50 fathom line again.

Allison Henry
Chief Scientist
GG13-01 North Atlantic Right Whale Survey and Biology

Note:  NOAA Teacher at Sea Angela Greene from Ohio is aboard the Gordon Gunter for the first leg of this survey.   Read her updates on the NOAA Teacher at Sea blog.

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