Tales of Tagging

As I sit here listening to the wind rippling the flag on the deck and watching the gray waves roaring on the beach, it’s hard to believe that the weather was ever nice enough to tag whales.  Luckily for us, though, it was!  Sunday we managed to get a tag on a mom (#2123, “Couplet”) that stayed on for a little more than two hours.  The tags are programmed to come off at a preset time for retrieval, but we think this one was knocked off early by the calf rolling around on mom.  Calves seem to spend a lot of time on their mothers’ backs, especially here in the calving grounds.  It probably saves the calves a lot of energy to get some nudges here and there from mom, but it’s also not particularly helpful in keeping suction cups attached to a whale’s back.

 

Successful tagging of #2123 (Couplet)!

Successful tagging of #2123 (Couplet)!

If that wasn’t enough, on Monday’s trip we had glassy seas and an incredibly cooperative pair of whales.  The mother (#2040, “Naevus”) was spending lots of time at the surface, probably because her calf kept nursing.  We monitored their behavior before going in to tag, and luckily she wasn’t too wary of the boat and let us get a great approach.  After the tag was on, the whales treated us to lots of time at the surface, and we got some great looks at the interactions between mom and calf.  This little calf must have been hungry—it was nursing frequently and sticking close to mom except for a couple occasions when something piqued its curiosity.

 

#2040 (Naevus) proudly displaying her DTAG

#2040 (Naevus) proudly displaying her DTAG

One of those things was our boat: after a bout of nursing behavior a few hundred meters away, both whales sank down and popped up right near the R/V Barber!  The calf came in for a curious approach before joining back up with mom.  Unfortunately, none of us got footage, but the view from the bowsprit is certainly something I’ll never forget.  Something else I won’t forget is how funny it was to watch the calf trying to breach and slap its pectoral flippers when a group of bottlenose dolphins was swimming around the calf.

 

#2040 (Naevus) and her calf at the surface looking adorable

#2040 (Naevus) and her calf at the surface looking adorable

After a while, we left the R/V Stellwagen with the whales and headed offshore to see if that’s where the rest of the right whales were hiding.  Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, but we did happen upon several loggerhead sea turtles who were probably enjoying the warmer waters near the Gulf Stream. The Stellwagen retrieved the tag with about 6 hours of recording, so all in all it was definitely a great day out there.

 

The R/V Stellwagen tracking the DTAG on #2040 (Naevus)

The R/V Stellwagen tracking the DTAG on #2040 (Naevus)

Yesterday the weather window slammed shut, so we’re stuck inside for a couple more days.  But the whales are out there, and at least some of them are letting us put tags on, so I’m optimistic about the rest of the season!

For more information about Couplet and Naevus, check out our earlier post about the ongoing right whale pedigree project.

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