Tagging right whales
by Zachary Swaim -- February 24th, 2014
Given our unusually long window of nice weather, we decided to try our luck offshore with the plan to attach an overnight tag. On the way, we happened upon a mom/calf pair that we have seen before this year: #2040 (Naevus) and her calf. Since we had already tagged this mom, we left her and her calf and continued on our journey towards the southeast. The ocean was fairly quiet on the way except for a few loggerhead sea turtles, a handful of birds, some clumps of Sargasso, and two mylar Valentine’s Day balloons (just some of the trash we collected!). We encountered some spotted dolphins while transiting offshore, took a couple of biopsy samples before we left the dolphins to continue surveying.
We worked south and east with hopes of a sighting by 14S, the UNCW aerial survey team working over the Navy’s proposed USWTR range. With no appropriate sightings from the planes, we were surveying just west of the western most end of the USWTR lines when we spotted a whale. After spotting it we radioed 14S to help us with the sighting, and they circled back and saw that the whale was entangled. We radioed the EWS plane to inform them of the entanglement, and they diverted to come help. We decided to try to tag the whale, Eg4057, so as to get some tag data from a non-mother/calf pair, to keep track of the whale, and to get some data from a whale dragging gear. By the time the EWS plane arrived we had already tagged the whale and were tracking it from the RT Barber and Stellwagen. The EWS plane took over from 14S, and we tracked while the plane circled. They continued to circle while the team was mobilized from JAX to come with the satellite buoy. The RT Barber had to head back to shore to be in by dark, Stellwagen stayed with the whale, and the disentanglement team attached the sat buoy just as night fell. Stellwagen tracked the whale to the north until the DTag released at ~2100. The Stellwagen then headed toward the HARP location where they successfully swapped these long term acoustic recording packages.
The RT Barber returned in the morning to rendezvous with the Stellwagen to conduct more surveys and tagging efforts…stay tuned!