Curious encounters of the whale kind

These last few days we’ve been land bound by windy weather, so we took advantage of the downtime to fit shiny new engines to the R/V Selkie. More control and horsepower to get us safely and speedily around our mother/calf survey area. Very exciting! Before we get anywhere near the whales, though, we switch to our electric motors, which let us maneuver silently to make observations. Sometimes we get lucky: on our third field day this season, we didn’t even need these – the whale came to us…

Yes, we were carrying out photo-ID work on an adult and juvenile (not a mother/calf this time), when the adult whale approached us, slowly and gracefully, and proceeded to gradually circle the boat, surfacing often, each time pausing to take a languid peek at the boat, and perhaps the bizarre land mammals onboard. The water was placid, almost flat. The air was still. We spent thirty or forty minutes like this, enchanted by the unhurried curiosity of the whale. An intoxicating serenity descended upon the boat. Okay, maybe I imagined that last bit. Also, we got some great video, acoustic recordings, and stills.

Photo: D. Cusano

Photo: Dana Cusano

To me, at least, this was bliss. I joined Susan’s lab as a postdoc last October, and this is my first season of right whale fieldwork. Oh, to be in sunny Florida in January! Face-to-face with colossal whales! Listening to their weird sounds! You get the idea. Actually, even Grace and Pete with their decades of field experience were taken aback by the experience. These ‘curious approaches’ are typically only seen in juvenile whales; it’s very unusual to see such behavior in an adult. Anyway. Eventually, big whale and little whale moseyed off toward the horizon and the spell lifted. We packed up our gear. Possibly we had lunch.

The End.

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