C.C.B. 2014

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey of Scoby

I have to admit, I had started to give up hope on finding our little tag. It had been 11 days with no sign, no word. I had searched the beaches, listened with the VHF antenna, and posted signs with not so much as a glimpse, a blip on the receiver, or a phone call. And then it happened…

Grace and I were in the car when her phone started alerting her of messages, emails, voicemails. We ignored them at first (she was driving after all), but eventually Grace had me check to see what was up. She had emails, texts, and missed calls from several different colleagues, all regarding the discovery of a green tag by a beachcomber 10 days earlier. All of the messages asked the same question: was it ours? Yes, yes it was!

This was amazing news, and we were ready to stop what we were doing and head out to wherever this mystery person held our tag! We got the phone number for Mr. Lance Arnold and immediately called him. When we finally got to talk to him, we discovered he really did have our Scoby and that she was intact and seemingly unharmed. Based on what Lance described, that one of the LED lights was flashing at the top of the minute, she also still appeared to be recording something! Now came the snafu. Lance lived in Connecticut…here is Scoby’s story.

Lance found our tag while combing the beach on April 20th, the day after we deployed Scoby. While our contact info was on the tag, it’s unfortunate placement hid it underneath some electrical tape (oops). With no way to know this, Lance had no idea who the tag belonged to. Being a former marine science instructor however (oh what luck), he knew it was a scientific instrument and that whoever it belonged to probably wanted it back pretty badly. Right he was. With not much to go on other than that he knew the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was right nearby and possibly involved, he began by contacting them. Since we had requested help from everyone we knew, including some WHOI affiliates, most researchers in the area were aware that we had lost a tag. It took 10 days, but eventually word trickled down to us that our tag had been found. Meanwhile however, Lance returned home to Connecticut. With no other options or leads at that time, he took our Scoby along for the ride. Grace and I discussed our options, and although Lance generously offered to ship us our tag, we decided it was best, safest, and easiest for someone to just drive the 2.5 hours and go get her. That someone of course, was me.

So I set out early the next day for Ashford Connecticut to meet Lance Arnold: Scoby savior. Unbeknownst to me, he was also Lance Arnold: artist and sculptor. Here is a little blurb about Mr. Arnold from his artist statement:

A former science teacher and self-taught artist, Lance Arnold was born in Boston and raised in Hingham, Massachusetts. He graduated from American International College with a BS in Biology and later earned a Master’s in the Art of Teaching from the University of North Carolina. Mr. Arnold has always possessed an intense love of the ocean and he often harvests treasures from the sea and beaches (thankfully for us!) for his one-of-a-kind glass compositions and sculptures. There is an organic feel to many of Mr. Arnold’s pieces, which celebrate nature in all its various forms. Making use of driftwood, animal bones, oxidized metal, and sea creatures, he creates the many unique images that appear in his glass panels and found-object sculpture. Mr. Arnold’s varied palette also consists of bits and pieces from abandoned dumpsites and roadsides, as well as from the shore. These are assembled in sculptural works marrying an aesthetic sense for color and shape with a quiet respect for found objects and serendipity. He also creates functional and ornamental art consisting of glass boxes, vases, wind chimes, and jewelry.

I had the pleasure of not only meeting Lance, who is delightful by the way, but I got to see his amazing studio. As an artist myself, I have to say I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store. It was filled with finished sculptures, paintings, and jewelry but also with trinkets and treasures waiting to be transformed. If you are an artist, a lover of the sea, or just anyone who likes to see boxes of wild animal skulls, I highly recommend going to see his studio. Visit his website if nothing else, you won’t be disappointed!

Scoby is back with me now in the Parks Lab in Syracuse. Will briefly looked at it and it seems the tag was only on the whale for about 2 hours. Better than 30 seconds of course, so I can’t/won’t complain. I plan on browsing the audio this week, so let’s hope for some good data! Thanks again Lance!

lab member holding tag
Really happy to be reunited!
four lab members one holding tag one holding sculpture
Hannah, myself, Jess, and Leanna proudly holding our returned tag and the medusa glass sculpture Lance Arnold gave to the Park’s Lab!

Another day, another calf

We had a pretty nice day out on Monday: beautiful weather, lots of whales, and we found our own mom/calf pair pretty early in the day. Not to sound like a cocky young jedi apprentice, but we are starting to get pretty good at tagging these calves! Take a look at our video here, recorded by the talented Alex on his GoPro: Tag_2040-HD 720p

Granted, the tag only stayed on for 30 minutes, but that is pretty good for a rambunctious calf that liked to roll around on mom a lot…we also got to witness the little guy practicing to be a successful right whale adult. He swam around a bit with his mouth open just like skim-feeding mom. Pretty adorable!

mom and calf whales feeding
Mom skim feeding on the left, calf mimicking mom on the right. Photo: Will Cioffi

We have gotten two tags on in the last two days out, let’s hope we can continue our hot streak!

The travels of tag B004 (“Scoby”)

Good news or bad news first? Let’s go with good news! Saturday was a lovely day out on the water with lots of sunshine, albeit a bit cold. Parks Lab master’s student Hannah Blair was able to accompany us and she got to see her very first right whale, up close and personal! We were on our game that day and got a tag on an adult right whale (not yet identified) around noon. It was as smooth and successful as anyone could have hoped. Better yet, it was our Acousonde tag that is equipped with a FastLoc GPS on it to track the whales movements along with the other data – tag B004, which we fondly refer to as Scoby. We were pretty excited.

Now for the bad news…we stuck around for hours, never hearing a ping from Scoby. One possibility for this is that the placement of the tag on the animal was such that the antenna was not breaking the surface when the animal came up to take a breath. Our right whale was also almost exclusively subsurface feeding, which meant it only surfaced for a few breaths here and there, but never came out of the water much even when it did. After over 4 hours with the whale, the seas had picked up to a point where we were forced to leave for home. Talk about a stressful decision! Luckily the next few days were supposed to be alright for weather, so we could come back and search for it.

More bad news…the weather the next day decided NOT to cooperate. We weren’t able to go out on the water, so we searched from the beaches high and low. The ping from the transmitter can be heard miles and miles away, so when we didn’t hear anything all day (we didn’t stop searching until after 9pm!) we obviously weren’t very happy. We would continue the search the next day.

So yesterday we woke up during the wee hours of the morning (4am to be exact) and were launched by 7am to resume our search. Using photographs from the day of the tagging, we were actually able to locate our tagged whale. More bad news…the tag was not on it as far as we could tell. The fact that the tag was almost certainly off and yet we still weren’t hearing it was not good. We had been trying so hard to be optimistic (maybe the tag slipped to his belly and it was still on, but we just couldn’t hear it!) but this didn’t look good. We set up the CCS plane with tracking gear the day before, so they listened for it all day as well. We looked and looked all day long, and when the CCS plane was finished for the day (they also heard nothing), the NOAA plane offered to come help us look. We did some tests and it turns out that they could hear one of our other transmitters 17 miles away…but they didn’t get a single ping from our lost Scoby…

It was getting late and the winds were picking up, so we headed in. All the while still listening and hoping. Ever trying to be optimistic, we have not ruled out the possibility that the antenna or transmitter was damaged somehow (definitely possible) and perhaps our tag will wash up on shore. Or maybe it is still on a whale’s belly! If someone were to pick it up, it has Susan’s contact info written on it and hopefully they will let us know.

Tell your friends in the area to keep their eyes out, we want our Scoby back!

poster with contact information and lost tag description

Sneaky subsurface skimmers

We had a lovely day out on the water yesterday and the CCS (Center for Coastal Studies) plane even found us #2123 – Couplet. The only problem was that she was over 20 miles away from where we launch out of Sandwich…

map of cape cod bay
The blue marker is where the mother/calf pair was seen. The red marker is Sandwich, where we launch our boat.

It was still early in the afternoon, and Selkie can move pretty fast (25+ knots), so normally we wouldn’t have even questioned whether we should go. This is Cape Cod however, and the trouble with the Cape is that there can be hundreds of feeding right whales around. What’s more, if they are subsurface feeding, you might never even know it! To keep both them and us safe, it is prudent to travel at pretty slow speeds (less than 10 knots or so). At that speed we wouldn’t make it to the pair for another 2 hours at least! We went for it anyway. We did find the pair, however we didn’t manage to get a tag on her. We didn’t get to spend nearly as much time working as we would have liked because we had to factor in a 2+ hour transit back to Sandwich, all before sunset!

We made our way back slowly and uneventfully, only seeing a few right whales pop up here and there. When we got the end of the day update from the CCS plane we were surprised to hear that they had ~145 right whales in and around the Bay yesterday! This is a perfect example of why feeding right whales in Cape Cod Bay are at such a high risk from ship strike; a paper by Parks et al. 2012 showed that feeding right whales in this habitat spend the majority of their time just subsurface where they can’t be seen, but are shallow enough to be vulnerable to vessel collision. Dangerous dining indeed! Hopefully we will back out soon!

Yesterday’s trash removal included a rubber trash can and a gold balloon. We also saw several other balloons and a cutting board that we weren’t able to retrieve.

Back to the Bay

Well it’s back to Falmouth, Massachusetts for the 2014 Cape Cod Bay field season! I arrived Tuesday and while we haven’t had much luck with the weather, there is one mom/calf pair waiting in the Bay for us – #2123, Couplet. (The Duke team got a tag on her just this past season – see the blog post here). We are still waiting and hoping the rest of the mom/calves will show up soon! Here is an updated mom list for the 2014 calving season (view the previous list in our earlier blog) and what we are hoping to accomplish in CCB this year:

#1321 (Mono): a female first seen in 1983, making her at least 31. This birth is her 5th calf! Neither team got a tag on this mom in the calving grounds this year, so we would love to do that this season!

#1425: a female first seen in 1982, making her at least 32. Neither team tagged this mom either. Another priority!

#2040 (Naevus): a 24 year old female born in 1990. Naevus’ mother is #1140 (Wart), who was “famous” last year for having her calf in Cape Cod Bay. Naevus’ father is unknown.

#2123 (Couplet): a 23 year old female, Couplet was born in 1991. Her mother is #1123 (Sonnet) and her grandmother is #1142 (Kleenex). Couplet’s father was #1144 (Dingle).

#2503 (Boomerang): a 19 year old female born in 1995. Her mother is #1503 (Trilogy) and her grandmother is #1240 (Baldy). Baldy is at least 40 and was just spotted last year. Boomerang’s father is #1043.

#2645 (Insignia): an 18 year old female born in 1996. Her mother is #1245 (Slalom) and her grandmother is Wart. That means Insignia’s mother Slalom is the sister of Naevus. Although we don’t know the father of either of the sisters, it ultimately makes Naevus the aunt of Insignia! Pretty neat! I often wonder if they know…Insignia’s father is #1170 (Legs).

#2746: a 17 year old female born in 1997. Her mother is #1946 (a 25 year old female) and her grandmother is #1246 (Loligo). #2746 shares a father with Insignia, #1170 (Legs), making them half-sisters. While we did tag #2746’s calf in the southeast, we didn’t get a chance to put a tag on mom. This will be another priority for us here in Cape Cod Bay.

#3157: a 13 year old female born in 2001. Her mother is #1157 (Moon) and her father is #1033, making her half-sister with #1301 (Half-note).

#3546: a 9 year old female born in 2005. Her mother is #1246 (Loligo), so that makes her aunt to #2746 even though she is younger! This is the first calf for this young female.

An update on #1301 (Half Note): a 31 year old female, Half Note was born in 1983. This was her 6th calf, and just as we feared, she seems to have already lost this one as well. Read more about the unusual case of Half Note in a New England Aquarium blog post from 2012.

Again, great thanks to the New England Aquarium for giving us the North Atlantic right whale catalog. and the DNA bank at Trent University for their work on paternities! Wish us luck this season and check back often!