Spotted with the Big Eyes

On July 5th we continued surveying shelf-break transects across Wilmington, Spencer and Lindenhold Canyons. Species sighted included sperm and humpback whales; bottlenose, common, and white-sided dolphins; and Sowerby’s beaked whale. The latter was the most exciting species, and the two animals swam across the bow for positive identification. On the evening of the 5th we transited to the southern point (36.35 N , 72.02W) of the most southern deep water (> 2,000 fathoms) survey line. The 160.0 nm line required two days (6-7 July) to complete.

Our winds have always been foul, never been fair as of yet on this cruise, and the resulting panorama of white caps makes marine mammals like dolphins and whales very hard to spot. Many oceanic animals create splashes and water disturbances at the surface which clue us in to their presences, but when these clues blend with a choppy ocean surface, we tend to have many fewer sightings than we would in calmer waters

spotted dolphin NEFSC

Spotted dolphin as seen by our visual observers.

On July 7th, we defeated the winds and managed to have several sightings of magnificent and elegant protected species! We started off the morning bright and early with an 8AM sighting of pantropical spotted dolphins, a lithe and slender species we’re sometimes lucky enough to see far offshore. We also saw several sperm whales today, and one young whale surfaced near enough that we got an impressive look at its cavernous, lopsided blowhole.

In the afternoon the winds calmed for nearly an hour, and in that brief window we saw two tightly-knit pods of striped dolphins, a beautiful silver-skinned species with a thick black line swooping down each side from its eye to its lower back. One pod charged through the water like it was late for an important appointment, and the other pod, which contained a few more calves, swam along at a more relaxed pace. We were able to photograph and enjoy both sightings.

We’re moving closer inshore and hope for lighter winds and calmer seas. Hope for us!


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