Aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, which departed Woods Hole in the late afternoon on April 29 for the northern right whale survey and biology cruise.
We are currently with some aggregations of humpback whales at the southern end of the Great South Channel. We are conducting the first line of Mark Baumgartner (of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, WHOI)’s CTD grid. The plane is doing an aerial survey to the north of us, and we hope that they will find us some right whales to work later in the day.
There is also good news from the acoustic gliders. They have picked up both sei and right whale calls this morning. Mark has emailed the location of the right whale detection to the plane so that the plane will be able to verify if possible. We are off to a good start, now we just need to have some good workable groups of right whales!
Sunday (May 1):
We made some real progress out here. Started out our survey on the western side of the Great South Channel near where the NOAA Twin Otter had seen a group of 50 sei whales on Saturday. At 06:00 we started our flying bridge observations in great conditions: light winds and sea state 2.
We picked up our first right whale high skim feeding in with about 8 sei whales and stopped the ship to scan the group. We soon found 2 more right whales and got the two small boats from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) over the side by 10:00 and got a tag on a sei whale by 10:40. Both RHIBs (rigid-hulled inflatable boats) were back on board by 12:30 and we steamed to the first location reported to us on the GPS.
We continued to get good locations for several more CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) casts near the whale. Because the sei whale was high skim feeding on the tagging approach we think the tag placement is fairly low on the back, so the quality of the hits is intermittent. Once the whale got outside the range for us on the ship the Twin Otter called and reported that they had finished up their survey of Franklin Basin and were headed our way. We reported to the crew that we had a tag on and asked if they could spend the last of their endurance searching for an aggregation of sei whales to send us to. The plane picked up a group of 30 sei whales and 1 right whale to the west of our location and we started steaming that way. We soon started getting more hits off the tagged whale and got in a few more CTD casts in.
- Image taken by Danielle Cholewiak, NEFSC/NOAA under MMPA permit #17355-01
Throughout the night there were some frustrating times with Argos hits from the tag, but no real time locations. Then the Argos website went down and we were getting no information from the tagged whale at all. This morning (May 2), when the website came back on line, we got a satellite hit from the tag and the location was about 14 miles away. We are currently in low visibility with lumpy conditions, but are heading to the new location to relocate the whale and start CTD ops. More news to follow soon.
Chief Scientist, GU 16-03
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter