Saving the best for last

Days 4 & 5 (April 10th and 11th) presented us with good weather for observations, but marine mammal sightings were few and far between.   We completed a series of 30 – 40 mile track lines just south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Islands. For both days we had accumulated approximately 20 sightings total with humpback whales, finback whales, common dolphin, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, and grey seals making the list. The seabird team was kept busy with many individual sightings,  with many razorbills and other alcids, dense patches of sea ducks, and the first sighting of a thick-billed murre for the trip. On both days, the best was saved for last as we encountered 4 North Atlantic right whales. It’s always a treat to see these large endangered whales and on Day 4 we observed four individuals in one area which was especially exciting. One whale was photographed and later preliminarily identified by scientists at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center as RIWH #1032. Though we await official confirmation from the New England Aquarium , “Thorny” is an adult male that has been seen in this area many times since 1980 but who’s last official sighting was in 2011 (unofficial sightings did occur in 2013). The whales were observed singly and in pairs with one pair displaying pectoral flipper splashing behaviors.

right whale thorny

We observed and photographed Thorny, a North Atlantic right whale. Photo credit: Todd Pusser

deploying array

The acoustics team from the NEFSC deploying the hydroacoustic array that we will tow behind the vessel to listen for cetaceans. Photo credit: Gina Shield, NEFSC/NOAA

Day 6, 13 April, we moved offshore about 60 miles due South of Nantucket, and began a series of transects that will take us north along the southern edge of Georges Bank and across its submarine canyons. These tracks cross over the continental shelf edge and slope in water depths of 50 (300ft) to 1300 fathoms (7800ft). These are areas experienced observers look forward to as it is the preferred habitat of many offshore species.  The deeper depths also enabled our use of the hydrophone array and it was deployed for the first time on this leg.

A member of the NEFSC acoustic team listening to the sounds the hydrophone array is detecting while the array is deployed.  Photo credit: Gina Shield, NEFSC/NOAA

A member of the NEFSC acoustic team listening to the sounds the hydrophone array is detecting while the array is deployed. Photo credit: Gina Shield, NEFSC/NOAA

As expected, approximately 50 individual sightings were observed including bottlenose dolphins, beaked whales, Risso’s dolphin, common dolphin, and sperm whales. Although seabird densities decreased our first sighting of a black-capped petrel was a treat.

Gina Shield
Aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
AMAPPS Cetacean and Turtle Abundance Spring Survey
GU14-02 Leg II

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