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

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


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