The past three days we spent out near Chatham, docking there for Thursday and Friday night. When you are out for 12 hour days for many days in a row (I still feel like I am on a rocking boat when I close my eyes), your days tend to mush together…but I will try to sum it up as best as I can.
Thursday we left the Sanctuary dock bright and early and spent 4 hours or so getting back to where the whales (and the Foster) were. Once we found them both, we got Elliot on board to map some prey. We also tried to photo ID as many whales as possible, which really helps to keep track of a tagged animal if it is in a group. Really the girls from the Whale Center were in charge of that but I like to think I helped. We keep track of tagged animals not only by their flukes, but also with a VHF transmitter which beeps every time the tag comes out of the water. Think glorified TV antenna when TV’s used to have antennae. The bad part about the day was that an entangled turtle, humpback, and grey seal were all sighted. The Song of the Whale was dispatched to help out with the turtle, but I never found out how that went. I will report back if I do.
Yesterday we got the luxury of sleeping in and left the harbor at around 0700. Once we found the Foster I was picked up in the Luna and got to learn all about using the laser range finder and behavioral following. I also learned that being surrounded by bubble nets and lunge feeding whales when you are practically eye level with them is just plain amazing, but seeing bubbles coming up right under your tiny little RHIB is quite frightening…but still pretty neat. The tagged animal we followed in the Luna ended up keeping her DTAG on for a record 24 hours, the maximum time it was programmed for. So I also got to see the retrieval of said tag.
Today was by far the best day of the trip though. Once underway, we received instruction from Dave to, and I quote, find the mother lode. Of whales that is. So after searching around for a while and following a few different groups, we noticed that they all seemed to be headed in the same direction. Naturally, we followed. Suddenly (or so it seemed) we were surrounded. Humpbacks and minke whales everywhere you looked, in any direction. Some were as close as a couple hundred meters and some as far as a kilometer or more. We had found the mother lode. They weren’t just lazing around either, they were breaching, kick feeding, lunge feeding…there were bubble nets everywhere, and some with more than 9 animals to the same net! As Captain Bob says, no refunds today! We had to leave a bit earlier than we would have liked in order to make our 4-hour trek back to Scituate, but before we left they got a tag on a female whose calf just happened to be the one that I got several wonderful photos of. Elliot also hopped on board for a bit to get some good data on all that prey swimming about. We managed to leave just in time to pass through a lovely thunderstorm on our way home, complete with lightning and 5ft. seas. Quite the experience.
So the Auk is officially done with her part of the cruise. Good luck to everyone still out on the Foster and Song of the Whale! Hopefully I will be back next year!