C.C.B. 2013

And just like that…

…they are gone. The PCCS (Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies) team flew their final aerial survey of the season yesterday and found only one lone right whale outside of the Bay. It’s pretty amazing actually. One day there can be a hundred individuals (pretty impressive since there are only about 500 in the entire population), and in a matter of days they are all gone.

What are they doing and where are they going? A large number of the population will now head north into Canadian waters near the Bay of Fundy and the western Scotian shelf. These waters remain cold even during the summer, providing rich feeding grounds. However, just like in Cape Cod Bay, not all individuals will be seen in those areas. Where the remainder of the population is, both now and in the summer, is unknown…

Although we are done in Cape Cod for the year, we will meet up with the right whales in the Bay of Fundy in August for two months of dedicated research. Check our B.O.F. blog to keep up with us and the whales!

Also check out these websites for more information on right whale behavior, habitats, and current research:

Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies

New England Aquarium

North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium 

Copious copepods in Cape Cod Bay

Well Jess and I went for another “whirlwind tour” of Cape Cod this past weekend and this time there seemed to be even more whales than before. In fact, the day before we arrived 113 right whales were reported in the Bay, including 5 mother/calf pairs! That is a lot of whales…

Right whales can be found in the Bay all year round but April is usually when we see the highest numbers (Jess and I can now vouch for that). Well what are all of these whales DOING in the Bay you ask? I will tell you! They are eating their preferred prey, tiny little crustaceans called copepods.

brown area in water
A dense swarm of copepods. Photo: Jess McCordic

In CCB right whales often do something called skim feeding where they open their mouths and swim through swarms of copepods, using their baleen to filter out the water and leave only the tasty little crustacean morsels. The whales do this for hours at a time taking a break now and then only to nod their heads, which may either be them using their tongues to push food back in order to swallow or a general appreciative gesture. Either way, it’s neat.

diagram of whale skim feeding next to actual whale
Wen right whales skim feed, we get to see their baleen and sometimes even the inside of their mouths! Drawing: D.D. Taylor. Photo: Dana Cusano

So Jess, Grace, Pete and I spent Saturday and Sunday amongst a horde of skim feeding right whales, searching for mom’s and calves. They can be difficult to track in the Bay compared to the southeast both because they are much more mobile and because there are often many other whales around. Saturday was pretty straight-forward but this was very much the case on Sunday. When we found our mom/calf pair there were also at least 20 other right whales skim feeding in the area. It can be a  little tricky to collect data in such a situation, but being surrounded by 20+ right whales skim feeding around your boat is definitely one of the coolest ways to spend your day.

Jess and I are back in Syracuse for the moment, but if the whales stay in the Bay and the weather continues to cooperate, we may be back out for more adventures soon! Check back often!

whale breaching in open water
Right whale breaching in the distance. Photo: Dana Cusano

Welcome to Cape Cod, Massachusetts

The Cape Cod field season is different from other field seasons because of one important fact: there is no field station. That is, the team and all of our equipment are spread out in several places, making everything a bit more challenging. This year I am staying in Syracuse and only driving up to Cape Cod when we have a weather window. As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is often very difficult to predict when the weather will cooperate…that being said, when Grace called on Saturday and said “tomorrow and Monday look good”, I wasn’t too surprised at the short notice. Unfortunately it was too late to get there in time for Sunday’s boat day but I could easily manage getting there for Monday. Susan couldn’t make it, but luckily Leanna and Jess were able to rework their busy schedules and join me. So Sunday came and we departed for what Jess called “a whirlwind tour of Cape Cod” 🙂

Sunday, being the first day out this season, ended up being more of a dry run which was alright since there weren’t any mom/calves sighted and Leanna, Jess, and I weren’t there yet anyway. Come Monday though we were ready and headed out early in hopes of better luck. We quickly found several subsurface feeding right whales and took some time to take photographs. The afternoon rolled around and neither us nor the plane had found any mom/calves yet. We were all beginning to wonder if all of the moms had taken their calves and left the Bay already…that would definitely put a damper on our data collection this season! We finally got our call over the radio around 1500 hrs: two mom/calf pairs! Phew. They were both pairs we had seen and recorded with in the southeast which was even better. After unsuccessful attempts to biopsy one of the moms, we decided to follow the other pair for our data collection.

All in all we had a great day. We collected all the data there was to collect (other than tag data obviously since we did not tag) and got to see 15+ right whales subsurface feeding throughout the day. Not a bad Monday, not bad at all.

lab member looking at water taking notes
Jess taking notes while a right whale shows its flukes
lab member on boat whale in background
Leanna collecting data while a right whale feeds in the background

Jess and Leanna headed back to Syracuse very early the next day (early as in 0400 early) to make it to class that day (such good students), but I was able to stay a little later and get all the data organized before heading back to the ‘Cuse. Now we wait for the word and our next whirlwind Cape Cod adventure!