Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas

Gerlache Strait (Thurs., 5/13/10) – “Tag boat ‘I Love You,’ this is Doug.” “Doug ‘I Love You’; go ahead.”
by -- May 14th, 2010

Each day shortly after breakfast (7:00-8:30 am), two small boats are deployed.

One boat, the “tag boat,” is dedicated to tagging, recording behavioral observations of the tagged whale(s) and associate(s), and taking identification photos including of flukes, dorsal fins and the Dtag orientation.  The second boat, the “prey boat,” is dedicated to mapping the prey near the tagged whale(s) at a fine scale.  To spice things up, the coxswains of the small boats, our intrepid marine technicians (MTs), give each small boat a name, so the mother ship can communicate easily via radio.  For example, the tag boat was named “I Love You” today, and therefore, this silliness ensued each time our spirited leader, Doug, needed to chat with them:

“Tag boat ‘I Love You,’ this is ‘Doug’.

“Doug.  ‘I Love You’; go ahead.”

Doug and Meng

Doug and Meng plan the daily activities.

Brilliant.

All night our anti-chaos tag tracker extraordinaire, Dr. Andrew Westgate (UNCW), and a few helpers tracked the tagged whale, “Malcolm,” throughout Wilhelmina Bay.  By the time all the monkeys (aka humans) flooded the bridge after scarfing down breakfast to lend their eyes, Andrew already had the tagged whale boxed in less than a mile off the bow.  When the tag fell off, a small boat speedily retrieved the tag gingerly bobbing in the water (at 9:47am to be precise) — expertly positioned about 500m ahead of the R/V NB Palmer.  They make it look easy.

No time to waste.  Tag another whale, more prey mapping, and visual surveys! Tagging another whale was a cinch; Ari and Alison had another tag on by noon.  Joe Warren (Stonybrook) maps prey in his sleep— and today in the Gerlache Strait in 700m of water.

Visual surveys require the R/V Palmer to be dedicated to mowing pre-set tracklines, which is actually quite difficult with so many other things going on at once.  However we managed to get a few hours of observations in both yesterday and today.

Reny Searching

Reny searches for whales from the conning tower of the R/V NB Palmer

Yesterday’s weather was beautiful, as you heard from Pat, however today we had smatterings of snowfall and haze, and it was 100% cloud cover all day, making everything illuminate in some shade of gray.  Funny thing, humpback whales are gray, too.  But since these humpback whales generally log at the surface sleeping all day, and they are incredibly fat, we are still able to see them quite well amongst the gray-blue water, various ice forms and white falling snow.

Shades of Gray

Consumed by clouds and snow, we see Wilhelmina Bay in shades of blue-gray.

Last night, the excitement during night tracking was the myriad of humpbacks curiously circling the ship, including a mother and calf pair.  Tonight, our excitement is a little more nerve-racking.  The tagged whale and his/her associate, “Sadie” breached causing the tag to slip down its back, making it harder to hear when the whale surfaces.  Eeek!  The fearless tracking team is on the edge of their seats on the bridge, and will be carefully listening to the ‘beep’ ‘beep’ …….  (uh oh, where’d it go?) ……… ‘beep’ ‘beep’  all night.  The tag should come off around noon tomorrow, unless the slippage causes an early (nighttime) release…

– Lindsey

P.S.  The food on the ship is great, hallelujah.

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Sandra Swanner
    May 14, 2010

    Beep, Beep, Beep!

    Everything should have its own name… so being quite amused by the “tying down” of the coffee pot I have (pardon the pun) tagged it “mainstay”.

    I sent Danielle an email asking how to tie down a beer can and after reading Thursday’s blog, my next question is “HOW DO YOU TIE DOWN THE WHALE TAG”?

    All kidding aside, this trip is overwhelming for the lay person but one I would love to do.

    Many thanks to all for your excellent blogs and phenomenal pictures…

    I look forward to the rest of your trip.

    Sandra

  2. Ben Best
    May 14, 2010

    Lindsey ‘I Love You’; Go Ahead

    Sounds like the 24/7 small boat ops are going smoothly! Hope the weather, humpbacks and technology continue cooperating.. beep.. beep… Oh, and keep Love afloat 😉

    PS Good food is the spice of life.

  3. Linds' Mom
    May 15, 2010

    Hallelujah!

    Life on land is sure boring compared to life on the bridge. Won’t be able to hear a “beep beep” without taking a good look only NOT to see anything exciting. Glad the food is worth a hallelujah! So are the blog entries. Keep ’em coming…

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