Ending Leg I on a High Note

5/7:  Well, we’ve found where the fog bank ends. Essentially the western side of the GSC (Great South Channel)  is blanketed, so we took advantage of the visibility to the east. Good vis, but not so much life. We had a handful of dolphins, both common and white-sided, as well as 1 finback (fin whale) and a couple of gray seals. The highlight, aside from being able to see more than 300 meters, were several sightings of pomarine jaegers flying east.

5/8: Started tracking back to the west to see if the fog had dissipated. It had! Our luck continued, when we found a mom/calf North Atlantic right whale pair on the eastern side of the Channel. Though the weather was good, we did not launch the boats as we can’t dermally tag nursing mothers and I tentatively identified the pair as 1408 and calf. Both of whom have already been biopsied. About an hour later we found another single right whale. Once we got to the western side of the channel, we found two more single whales, both skim feeding, which is a good sign. Hopefully more whales will move into the channel during the interim between this leg and the next. We deployed a light profiler and WHOI’s (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) CTD cage in the vicinity of the feeding right whales. The light profiler is to help researcher Jeff Fasick, who is studying marine mammal vision, get a better idea of what the light is actually like in the waters that the whales inhabit. The WHOI cage measures both the water itself (with the CTD) and the prey availability (with an optical plankton counter (OPC) and visual plankton recorder (VPR).


Right whale calf. Photo by Allison Henry, NEFSC/NOAA

5/9: Oh, fog, how we missed you. Actually, the fog was pretty amazing this morning, as it was really low. Essentially just at sea level, so we could survey from the flying bridge. It still hampered our sightings, but as we moved north along the eastern side of the shipping lanes and out of the fog, we found a pair of right whales skim feeding. Again, we deployed the light profiler and CTD cage. Then as the day wound down we found a small pocket of heavy activity – 2 humpbacks kick-feeding, 1 minke whale, 30 white-sided dolphins, and 3 gray seals – all feeding on the same bait patch. 3 finbacks were lunge feeding nearby. It was nice to end this leg of the cruise on such a high note.

Skim feeding right whale. Photo by David Morin, NERO/NOAA

Skim feeding right whale. Photo by David Morin, NERO/NOAA

whales skim feeding

Pair of skin feeding whales. Photo by Allison Henry, NEFSC/NOAA

There’s only so much you can control on a research cruise, and I am extremely grateful for having such a good-spirited crew (both scientist and shipboard) with me on this one. It’s hard to stay positive when the elements seem to be against you, but they surely did and helped me stay positive, too.

sciece team

Left to Right: Samara Haver, Nadine Lysiak, Mark Baumgartner, Jennifer Gatzke, Chris Tremblay, Allison Henry, David Morin, Lauren Bamford, Angela Greene, Beth Josephson, Eric Matzen, Sarah Fortune. Photo by Benjamin LaCour, NOAA.

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

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