More fog, a few sightings, and Beaker

5/5: Finally some decent weather. We surveyed the western side of the GSC (Great South Channel), running north along the 50 fathom line. Once we were near Provincetown, we turned east and then headed south, hugging the eastern side of the shipping lanes. Alas, our sightings were scattered and comprised mostly of piscivores. We did find one right whale, which we photographed from the ship, heading steadily southeast. We confirmed via photo-ID that it was EGNO 3440 aka “Cypress” who was the only whale sighted by the PCCS (Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies) survey plane that day. This means they’ve pretty much all left Cape Cod Bay! Hopefully, they’ve come down to join us in the GSC.

5/6: If they’re here, we can’t see ’em. Fog, fog and more fog. We surveyed east/west lines across the southern end hoping to find a break, but didn’t. Cabin fever, or bad weather fever, is starting to set in, so we’re all looking for ways to keep ourselves entertained. See attached (images) for my preferred method. The night was capped off with rousing games of “Peanut” and “Salad Bowl” (trust me, it’s fun).

Beaker surveying the fog. Photo by Allison Henry, NEFSC/NOAA

Beaker surveying the fog….

Plotting tracklines... Photo by Allison henry/NEFSC/NOAA

… plotting tracklines…

beaker seasick

…and dealing with seasickness helped pass the time during heavy fog and rough seas. Photos by Allison Henry, NEFSC/NOAA

We’ve still got fog, but it’s lifted enough that we can actually survey from the flying bridge. Here’s hoping the trend continues and we find some right whales today.

Allison Henry
Chief Scientist
GG13-01 North Atlantic Right Whale survey and biology

Fog, then heavy seas, and finally a few whale sightings

Greetings from the Gordon Gunter,
Just wanted to check in and give you a brief summary of the cruise so far. Our original departure date and time was delayed from 4/29 to 4/30 due to a combination of factors.

4/30:  We departed at 8:00 (sans internet) and headed out to Vineyard Sound where we successfully launched and retrieved both small boats and did a test cast with our oceanographic sampling system. The WHOI scientists were able to test all their equipment and make sure that they’re ready to go.  The NEFSC scientists were able to go through all their protocols and equipment and train those who are new to this type of survey. David Morin went through his Level 1 Disentanglement Training presentation for all the scientists. So, now all the folks who will be looking for and at a whale will know what to look for and how to document and assess potential entanglements.

5/1:  Fog. And more fog. We deployed one of five MARU (pop-up) buoys first thing in the morning. Then transited through fog to the southern point of the Great South Channel and began running east/west survey lines across. In the fog. Did I mention it was foggy? Needless to say we didn’t see much other than fog… We tested the oceanographic cage again in deeper water. Also, Tony, the ET made the necessary repairs to get the Internet up and running again.

A fog blanket  May 1 over Cape Cod and nearby waters, taken from the NEFSC;'s aerial survey airplane, a NOAA Twin Otter.  Credit: Christin Khan, NEFSC.NOAA

A fog blanket May 1 over Cape Cod and nearby waters, taken from the NEFSC’s aerial survey airplane, a NOAA Twin Otter. Credit: Christin Khan, NEFSC.NOAA

5/2: Fog is gone!! Couldn’t ask for better sighting conditions. We are still running east/west lines across the channel and so far have had a few sightings of fin whales and sei whales and several small groups of white-sided dolphins. The aerial survey plane is up so hopefully one or both of us will come across some right whales soon.

5/2 (continued): We finished running west and began following the 50 fathom contour line on the western side of the Great South Channel (GSC) north. We found an area with a few right whales and decided to launch the small boats. Given how our luck as gone so far, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the seas picked up shortly after launching. But the whales were very cooperative – 1 breaching, lobtailing, and rolling around and 4 in a Surface Active Group (SAG) – so we were able to photograph them relatively quickly.  The WHOI tagging boat moved in for some attempts, but with the seas and whales’ behavior, weren’t able to get a tag on. We were also able to collect a poop sample from the SAG that will be sent to the New England Aquarium for hormone analysis.

Right whale " Silver"

The NEFSC aerial survey team was able to observe a Surface Active Group (SAG) of right whales May 2.  One of those whales, known as “Silver”, was named for the missing left part of his fluke. Photo credit: Jennifer Gatzke, NEFSC/NOAA

"Silver"

Closer view of North Atlantic right whale known as “Silver”. Photo credit:   Jennifer Gatzke, NEFSC/NOAA.

May 3 and May 4:   Big seas and general misery. We had 10+ foot seas for these two days. Needless to say there were some casualties to sea sickness and I’ll admit that I was one of them. But we still made the most of it and were able to run south and deploy the 4 remaining pop-ups. Luckily our Acoustician (Samara Haver) and some of the other scientific staff are made of hardier stuff than I…

We are currently running north on the 50 fathom line again.

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

Note:  NOAA Teacher at Sea Angela Greene from Ohio is aboard the Gordon Gunter for the first leg of this survey.   Read her updates on the NOAA Teacher at Sea blog.

Finding whale heaven

We have completed the first half of our cruise which consisted of our acoustic buoy retrieval along the Northeast Channel. The passive acoustics group had deployed 10 MARUs  or Marine Autonomous Recording Units – read more here)  during the March right whale cruise on the Delaware II.

lisetbning for the buoy

Julia Luthringer (Hollings intern) and Genevieve Davis (right) listening for the buoy response. (Credit: Alexandra Keenan)

pop-up acoustic bouy

A  recovered pop-up or acoustic buoy, also known as a MARU or marine autonomous recording unit. (Credit: Alexandra Keenan (NOAA Teacher at Sea)

The acoustic team

(Left to right: Julia Luthringer, Genevieve Davis and Denise Risch – the acoustic team! (Credit: Alexandra Keenan)

We now have 6 out of the 10 buoys back: one unit was trawled mid-May, four units were retrieved this past week on the Bigelow, and one unit was retrieved by IFAW’s cruise on the ship the Song of the Whale. During the buoy retrieval we were blessed with calm seas, bright sunshine, and warm temperatures. Along and across the channel brought us pods of Risso’s dolphins, Common Dolphins, and feeding pilot whales.  Most exciting of all we had sightings of two blue whales and three fluking sperm whales. If that wasn’t enough for our marine mammal observers, we were also surrounded by Mola molas, humpback, finbacks, sei, and minke whales.

common dolphin

Pods of common dolphins were plentiful as we saw many species along and across the Northeast Channel. Photo taken under marine mammal permit #775-1875. (Credit: Peter Duley, NEFSC/NOAA)

(Credit: Peter Duley, NEFSC/NOAA)

After many attempts to find the last 4 buoys, we headed North towards the Northeast Channel, and have now started the right whale leg of the cruise. Our first day landed us in right whale heaven, with SAGs (surface active groups) all around and a horizon full of the V-shaped blows right whales are so identifiable from.  With rough seas out here, we’re relying on photoID-ing from the flying bridge of the Bigelow.  It was a successful day despite not being able to deploy on the smaller boat, with our numbers adding up to over 30 photographed right whales. Today started with another successful area until the fog came in, and we’re now back and forth with fog and sunshine.

Until next time,
Genevieve Davis
Research Analyst
Passive Acoustics Group, Protected Species Branch

Spectacular Days for Whale Sightings and Weather

Friday, May 18: It was a magnificent day out at sea.  We had our first right whale sighting at 11:30, launched the small boat, and did not return until 5:30.  The two-meter (about 7 feet) high swells made it a significant feat getting in and out of the small boat, but once it departed from the Delaware II , the water was like glass almost the entire time.  After following five right whales, we seemed to have found ourselves in the middle of an excellent feeding site. We suddenly were surrounded by a dozen feeding sei whales, skim feeding in every direction.  There were several right whales skim-feeding with all the seis, and on the outskirts were a few basking sharks. All in all we photographed 11 right whales, and biopsied one sei whale.

Saturday, May 19: Rough morning seas this Saturday did not look promising, but after having a known mom and calf come along side the boat, and a few other individuals after, we launched the small boat and found ourselves in yet another amazing feeding ground, with sei whales, right whales, and basking sharks in every direction. There was a group of 5 right whales echelon feeding, with sei whales and basking sharks all in the same circle. And for the most exciting news: we believe we found a new calf, and are awaiting for ID confirmation from the New England Aquarium, which maintains the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog!

A new calf with its mother? (Photo credit: Jennifer Gatzke, NEFSC/NOAA)

Sunday, May 20:  Another beautiful day brought us to our most successful day yet.  We came across at least 30 different right whales today, and managed to get a biopsy from one of our “wanted” lists.  There were many whales feeding in groups today, once again mixing with sei whales.  The small boat was launched by 8:30 in the morning and not brought in until 6 PM.  We’re heading back towards Provincetown before lunch today to anchor for some bad weather heading our way on Tuesday, but should be back in the right whale rich waters come Wednesday.

Genevieve Davis
NEFSC’s Protected Species Branch

Right whales and the ship’s last cruise

It was a great first day (May 15)  for the last cruise leg on the Delaware II.  Calm seas and clear visibility brought us many right whales, sei whales, fin whales, a few humpbacks, and several basking sharks.  We launched the small boat and were able to photograph 5 right whales, one of which is entangled in fishing gear.

With rough weather today (May 16), we anchored off of Provincetown.  The water is calm enough for us to do some small boat practice around the Delaware, but we’ll be back on course tomorrow, heading North to continue the cruise effort.

One of the  scientists aboard, NOAA’s Teacher-At-Sea Ellen O’Donnell, is keeping a blog which you can follow for more information at http://tiny.cc/atsea.

More soon,
Genevieve Davis

NOTE:  More information about the entangled right whale sighted on this cruise, and how disentanglement team members from the Northeast Regional Office in Gloucester  who were invited to join the cruise worked closely with NEFSC  scientists and ship personnel, visit: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/nero/hotnews/rwrc/.

Right Whale Cruise March 2012

right whale NOAA NMFS Fisheries NEFSC skim feeding

Right whale high skim feeding at sunset. (Photo credit: NOAA/Pete Duley)

Overall we had a very successful cruise given the time of year it was conducted. March on the open North Atlantic is not usually very inviting. We spent the first two days, which were also the roughest, deploying MARUs (Marine Autonomous Recording Units aka pop-up buoys) along the edges of Georges Bank. Those buoys will sit on the ocean floor collecting acoustic data until they’re retrieved on the June cruise. We then began visual surveys for right whales in earnest, going to all the areas where right whales have been seen historically in March. Apparently this year was not typical. We surveyed the western and southern parts of the Great South Channel to no avail, though there were large groups of humpbacks and finbacks to be seen. We did find a handful scattered around Stellwagen Bank as well as south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The deck crew ran CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) casts every night throughout the cruise to gather oceanographic data.

right whales skim feeding Provincetown Race Point NOAA NMFS NEFSC Fisheries

Three right whales skim feeding by Race Point off Provincetown, MA. (Photo credit: NOAA/Tim Cole)

The bulk of the right whales were concentrated around the tip of Cape Cod, in an area well surveyed by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS). Knowing that those animals were going to be well documented photographically by our PCCS colleagues, we spent just a day there and focused on collecting any biopsy samples from animals that we still need genetic data on. PCCS had seen approximately 13 animals in Cape Cod Bay to date that still need to be sampled. Alas, none of the 30 or so whales we photographed that day were ones that needed to be biopsied, but we had a glorious day right off the beach of Provincetown.

right whale research NOAA NMFS NEFSC Fisheries race point provincetown

NOAA Fisheries PSB reasearchers Tim Cole, Allison Henry, and Pete Duley documenting right whales by Race Point off of Provincetown, MA (Photo credit: NOAA/Keith Hernandez)

Though the weather was better than we expected, we still had some rough days due to high winds. We spent 2 days at the dock about halfway through the cruise to wait out an offshore gale and cut the cruise short a day due to worsening conditions. But the good weather outweighed the bad and, all in all, it was a successful March cruise!

Allison Henry

Fog, Fog and More Fog…and Some Whales

Delaware II returned to the NEFSC’s Woods Hole Laboratory dock on Tuesday (May 17), since it did not make good sense to sit at anchor in the fog just off of Nantucket for days. With promising weather in the forecast, we departed Woods Hole on Friday the 20th and steamed through the night to a point northwest of Howell Swell (an undersea feature east of Cape Cod).

Fulmars in the fog (Photo credit: Kate Sparks, Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR)

There we sat all day Saturday in thick fog! We ran up to the flying bridge a few times during the day, hopeful that a new-found mile of visibility would soon open up. It never did. Inevitably it would close right back in to the 50 feet of visibility we were looking at for most of the day. The NEFSC’s twin otter tried to take a look around for us on their way to coastal Maine. They called and reported thick fog everywhere in the Great South Channel (GSC) region…so we sat.

Ship in fog

Photo credit: Kate Sparks, Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR)

The winds picked up just at sunset Saturday and gave us a fairly rough night. On Sunday morning, the skies were overcast but we had good visibility. We
surveyed about 120 miles of track line, zig zagging through Howell Swell
and southward. We encountered three individual right whales, all widely
dispersed. Our sea state started as a Beaufort 4 with about a six-foot swell and improved throughout the day.  Around 1930hrs (7:30 pm EDT) last night, we came upon about five right whales within a mile or two of each other.

This morning (Monday the 23rd) it’s blowing around 17-22kts (knots, or roughly 19-25 miles per hour) and the seas are building. We found a pile of right whales! Beginning where we left off last night, we scouted around a bit. Approximately 30 right whales or so in the area. We have a strong beaufort 4 and building, which prohibits any small boat work.

Sighting whales from the DEII, with some help from “the big eyes” at right. (Photo credit: Kate Sparks, GDNR)

We are about 50nm east of Nauset. We will continue to track south and see what we find until conditions are unworkable, and will head for cover tonight near Chatham. Tomorrow’s forecast is 20-25kts (winds of roughly 23 to 29 miles per hour), with some hope in Wednesday’s forecast of lighter winds.

Lisa Conger
Chief Scientist, DE 11-04
Large Whale Program, NEFSC
Woods Hole Laboratory

Three humpback whales, two minke whales, one sei whale, and a puffin as the bird for the day…

Saturday, May 14:

We woke to a consistent foghorn blowing from the NOAA Ship Delaware II. At 1100 hrs (11: 00 a.m.) the fog lifted enough and we returned to ‘on effort’ and our visual survey. Once on top of the fly bridge (or flying bridge, an elevated open area above the pilot house ) and sturdy behind “the big eyes” (very large magnifying binoculars mounted in an adjustable pedestal), we continued east/west tracks on the southern most end of the 50-fathom contour (about 300 feet deep) – an area historically known to have North Atlantic right whales.  However, history was not repeated on this day, as we did not come across any of our target species.

Despite the limited visibility and dearth of right whales, we were able to complete 4 tracks and recorded quite a few sightings. We saw a large group of Atlantic white-sided dolphins (~ 25 individuals), 2 humpback whales, 2 minke whales, 1 sei whale, 1 basking shark, 1 harbor porpoise, and a partridge in a pear tree… In addition to marine mammals, we also brushed up on our bird identification skills with a puffin sighting claiming the #1 spot for bird of the day.

Sunday, May 15:

We woke with the engines underway and an agenda at hand. We were steaming to Hyannis, MA, where we would perform a crew personnel transfer – swapping out deck crew and scientists Tim Cole and Eric Matzen for Beth Josephson and Kate Sparks.

After a successful transfer, Beth and Kate quickly jumped into rotation as we resumed visual efforts in the late afternoon. We continued to survey as the Delaware II transited back to the study area, cruising up the west side of the shipping lane. Shortly after suiting up in our mustangs (insulated work suit that also can floa), we stumbled upon a pile of humpback whales and with all eyes on the fly bridge – identified at least 23 big-winged New Englanders (otherwise known as 23 humpback whales, who haopoen to have long pectoral fins!)

Monday, May 16:

Excited for the prospect of another day, we woke instead to the return of the foghorn and a sky without a horizon. Currently we stand ‘off effort’ but will spend the rest of the day actively searching for open patches to work. And despite an unfavorable extended forecast, we remain hopeful that the fog will lift, the seas will lie down (meaning they will flatten or calm), aerial survey support will locate heavy concentrations of right whales, and we will productively work from the small boat! In the interim, we hope all those following along at home are doing well. Stay tuned for more stories from the DE II

Sarah Mussoline

Wind, Waves and Lots of Whales: The 2011 North Atlantic Right Whale Survey Is Underway

Wednesday afternoon, May 11:

We departed Woods Hole Harbor at 2 p.m  into Vineyard Sound, headed southwest for a bit and entered Buzzards Bay through Quicks Hole, a  passage between Pasque  and Nashawena Islands in the Elizabeth Island chain that separates Buzzard’s Bay from Vineyard Sound.  The wind had whipped up Buzzards Bay, but we entered a calm Cape Cod Canal that evening knowing Cape Cod Bay, to the northeast at the other end of the Canal, would likely be worse.

Luckily, Cape Cod Bay wasn’t as bad as expected, so we steamed across and anchored up in the lee  of Provincetown, protected from the wind and waves,  for a peaceful night at anchor.

Thursday morning, May 12:

We peeked around the corner of Race Point to find a leftover six-to-eight-foot swell running in the bay.  There was some urgent work to be done, so we headed out from shelter to retrieve 10 acoustic pop-up buoys, used for localization and distribution purposes,  that were scheduled to “pop-up” soon –  whether we were ready to retrieve them or not.

Due to the skill of the officers and crew of the Delaware II and Protected Species Branch acoustician  Sarah Mussoline’s knowledge of the pop-up retrieval process, the day was a success with all 10 buoys retrieved by quitting time.

Todd Wilson sitting amongst pop-up buoys

"To catch pop-up, one must think like pop-up - Adrian. " Crew member Todd Wilson follows a colleague's advice to become " one" with the pop-ups. (Photo Credit: Adrian Martyns-Fisher, NOAA)

We were close to Wednesday night’s anchorage, so we decided to give ourselves another night’s sleep out of the swell.

WOman checks pop-ups opn deck of ship

Chief Scientist Lisa Conger checks the pop-ups, officially known as marine acoustic recording units or MARUs, on the deck of the NOAA Ship Delaware II after retrieval. (Photo credit: Sarah Mussoline, NOAA Fisheries Service)

Friday morning. May 13:

The visibility was good and the sun was shining, so we lined up on our first visual survey transect to the south.  There was some lingering swell, but it wasn’t long before we got into some serious whale action with congregations of humpback, fin and sei whales, and mixed bird species feeding.  By the end of the day we had logged approximately 227 individual marine mammals sighted, mostly humpback, minke, and fin whales.

Saturday, May 14:

As I write this, the sun is burning off the dense fog and we are gearing up for another potentially productive day on the DEII’ s 2011 North Atlantic Right Whale Survey.

Eric Matzen
Protected Species Branch
Woods Hole Laboratory