Patience and persistence pay off

I know I have mentioned it before, but I think I should stress the point again – putting a tag on a whale is HARD. I mean, let’s think about it. We are trying to put a small recording tag (in our case an Acousonde) which is about 9″ long on a living, breathing, has-a-mind-of-its-own animal that can be anywhere from about 15 ft in the case of calves to over 50 ft in the case of moms. On top of that, the tag is deployed from a carbon fiber pole that extends to about 26 ft. The tag is then attached to the whale with suction cups that must all sit nice and flat in order for it to stay for any extended period of time, and anytime something (ahem, a calf) bumps into it, the tag can and often does slide or pop right off. Now all this must be done from a boat in whatever sea state you might find yourself in while the animal is often moving. Yeah. That being said, when we finally do get a tag on it is obviously the result of quite a bit of skill, but also more than a fair share of patience and persistence. And luck. We had all of these things on Sunday, plus #1611 and calf up past Race Point.

right whale and calf just below surface of water
An amazing view of #1611 and her calf just subsurface. Photo: A. Loer

Under our permit we are allowed just 3 tagging attempts on a pair in order to minimize any stress to the animals, so each failed attempt isn’t just a blow to our pride, it is one major strike against us. Our first attempt was a good one, but not successful. Not a huge problem, we have dealt with that before, so we waited a bit and then slowly moved back in. Suddenly the perfect moment presented itself – the calf came up right next to the boat, slowly and calmly. But we must remember that tagging is HARD and life is cruel, so what happened next? Oh the tag fell out of the holder and plopped into the water next to the calf of course. Then what? The calf came right back up in the same spot, ready for tagging again, the tag still bobbing around nearby. Oh awesome, then what? The calf did a nice dive with a little turn of the fluke, effectively getting me wet just to rub some salt in the wound. Ouch.

Well that was not a good moment, no. And I have never felt more like just crawling under a blanket and taking a nap. But we are field biologists, huzzah, so we pick ourselves back up and we move on to attempt number three obviously! Patience and persistence rewarded.

whale calf being tagged
Moving in to tag the calf of #1611. Photo: D. Cusano
successfully tagged calf
Tag on! Photo: D. Cusano

That’ll do. Until next time, I will be doing what I love most – analyzing data.