In port for a crew change before heading out again

Currently 10:20 on May 4th and we are tied up at the Coast Guard Station in Boston. We are here for a crew change and should be in Boston till mid to late afternoon. After we picked up the tag on May 3, we headed for the far east end of the Northern most line of Mark Baumgartner’s CTD grid.

Because we had steady to intermittent rain, marine mammal observations were maintained from the bridge with a two person rotation. Dani Cholewiak has been continuing with the sonobuoy drops along the track line to see if we are able to pick up groups of right or sei whales acoustically while we are in low visibility. So far humpback whales have been making it difficult to pick up other species that might be in the area.

Last night before breaking off track to come into Boston we finished up most of the CTD stations, and although a bridge watch was maintained throughout the day very few marine mammals were seen. Weather for the next couple of days is not looking too good, but hope to be back in the thick of things soon. We may head for an aggregation of right whales reported off Jeffreys Ledge late this afternoon. Even if we don’t have the weather to do any small boat work, it  would still be good to get eyes on the group and be there if things drop out.

The crew is off seeing some of the sights in Boston and enjoying some good rest before we head out this afternoon. Guess that is all the news for now, more to follow once we get off the dock.

Pete Duley
Chief Scientist, GU 16-03
Aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

Tag Recovered!

Great news from the Gordon Gunter! The tag came off the whale last night and started giving good position, both fast lock and Argos satellite fixes. At 0600 we sent up a flying bridge watch to look for the tag. Tag recovered at 0630! The ship put us about 30 meters from the location Nicole Brandt spotted the tag and Kristy Johns the mate brought the tag right down the port side and into a long handled net. With the tag on board and the data downloading we are on our way the the east end of our very northern most CTD line to work east to west. Late tonight we will need to break off line to head into Boston for the crew change. That is all the news for now, but so far not a bad day!

Pete Duley
Chief Scientist, GU 16-03

Off to a good start

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.

April 30:
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.


Peter Duley,
Chief Scientist, GU 16-03
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

What is going on?

5/29: What have we been missing from this cruise? Aside from whales, that is. Rain! We got it in spades today. Along with more wind, seas and fog. But it lifted a little in the afternoon and Lisa spotted a single right whale as we zigged and zagged south over the 50 fathom line on the eastern side of the GSC (Great South Channel). It was a juvenile that was doing some sub-surface feeding.

Map of the Gulf of Maine showing some of the areas surveyed by the Gordon Gunter.  Great South Channel is at the bottom of the map, between Nantucket Island and Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank.

5/30: We spent the half-day that we had remaining running west across the GSC, stopping every 5 miles to conduct a CTD and VPR cast. We also did one vertical plankton tow, which came up with a fair amount of copepods. Mark Baumgartner has done these casts in the same spots on previous trips and is going to compare this year’s data with past cruise data. We had a few sei and fin whale sightings along with some white-sided and common dolphins. Pete had a Kogia sighting (!) after we had closed up shop and were transiting home. What IS going on out there?

Again, I am so grateful to have had another group of positive scientists who don’t let the weather or lack of whales get them too down.

Left to Right: Tim Cole, Pete Duley, Melanie Lyte, Chris Tremblay, Nadine Lysiak, Allison Henry, Barbara Beblowski, Mark Baumgartner, Whitney Sitzer, Lisa Conger, Kira Kasper, Steven Brady. Photo Credit: Marc Weekley, NOAA

Left to Right: Tim Cole, Pete Duley, Melanie Lyte, Chris Tremblay, Nadine Lysiak, Allison Henry, Barbara Beblowski, Mark Baumgartner, Whitney Sitzer, Lisa Conger, Kira Kasper, Steven Brady. Photo Credit: Marc Weekley, NOAA

Allison Henry
Chief Scientist
GG13-01 North Atlantic right whale survey and biology

Support from the air

Images of the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter underway on a beautiful day, taken from the NOAA Twin Otter right whale aerial survey plane May 28 by Jennifer Gatzke of NEFSC’s aerial survey team.  The team aboard the Twin Otter have been working with the observer and scientific team aboard the Gunter to help locate right whales from the air.

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter on the right whale survey. Photo by Jennifer Gatzke, NEFSC/NOAA.

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter on the right whale survey. Photo by Jennifer Gatzke, NEFSC/NOAA.

Gordon Gunter bow

Another view of the Gordon Gunter, taken May 28 from the NOAA Twin Otter aerial survey airplane by Jennifer Gatzke, NEFSC/NOAA

To find out more about the right whale sightings and the aerial survey team, visit the North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting  Survey web site. Follow the track of the Gordon Gunter (GU) on the NOAA Ship tracker web site.

“A” for effort

5/27: The day started out with such potential. A clear horizon and winds between a beaufort 3 and 4. Alas, conditions deteriorated quickly, with the winds picking up to a beaufort 6 for the majority of the day. We ran some fine scale survey lines through an area in the southwestern GSC (Great South Channel) where many of the more recent sightings of right whales were made. The aerial survey team searched a dedicated pattern over the same area. When that didn’t turn anything up, they flew to the northeast and flew another focused survey box. Late in the day, the plane found 1 right whale on Franklin Basin and we found 1 juvenile subsurface feeding just east of the shipping lanes.

5/28: Today was forecast to be THE best day of the cruise. And it was. Weatherwise, that is. Again, the mighty NOAA twin otter helped us in our search. We began our day on the northern edge of Georges Bank, just west of where it intersects the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). We surveyed west, along the edge, between the 50 and 100 fathom lines. The plane surveyed to the east. Neither of us turned up any right whales, though we had nice sightings of pilot whales, harbor porpoise, white-sided dolphins and sei whales. When the plane headed into refuel, we finished surveying Franklin Basin and started surveying north towards Howell Swell. The plane came back out, surveyed the Howell Swell area with no luck, so we are now heading back to the GSC where there have at least been a smattering of sightings this season.

NOAa Ship Gordon Gunter

The observer crew is visible on the flying bridge of the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, photographed 5/28 from the NOAA Twin otter right whale aerial survey plane by Jennifer Gatzke, NEFSC/NOAA.

Long story short – If the whales were in these areas, we would’ve found them with the fabulous conditions we had. A giant “A” for effort, especially for the aerial survey team (Jen, Christin, Karen and our pilots, Francisco & Matt) for putting in a grueling two-flight day.

Allison Henry
Chief  Scientist
GG13-01 North Atlantic right whale survey and biology

Big seas and fog = time for catching up

A quick summary for these 4 days:

5/23: Transited north through big seas and fog to Cape Cod Bay. We anchored off of Provincetown that evening.

5/24-5/26: Stayed on the hook and watched the wind blow. Gust of 54 kts (knots) the first night we were there. Got caught up on work, movies, books, etc. Departed the evening of the 26th in order to be on station in the southwestern part of the GSC (Great South Channel) in the morning.

Hope you all had a good holiday weekend,

Allison Henry
Chief Scientist
GG13-01 North Atlantic Right whale survey & biology

New leg, same weather?

Greetings from the Gunter,

5/20: We departed from the USCG (U.S.Coast Guard) station in Boston on a beautiful morning and headed out to the Great South Channel (GSC) so that we could be on station in the morning.

5/21: Wish that beautiful weather had stayed with us. We had thick fog limiting our visibility to about 100 meters all day. We started in the southwest portion of the GSC in an area where a small group of right whales had been sighted by the aerial survey team. Since the visibility was so poor, we headed northeast to another area where the plane had sightings, hoping for better sighting conditions. No joy.

5/22: Visibility increased in the morning, but so did the wind. We went back to the southwest section and had a few sightings of finbacks, humpbacks, sei whales and white-sided dolphins before the fog closed back in again.

5/23: High winds, big seas, and fog with higher winds and bigger seas in the forecast. We’re heading to anchor off of Provincetown and wait for better weather.

Allison Henry
Chief Scientist
GG13-01 North Atlantic right whale survey

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