The travels of tag B004 (“Scoby”)

Good news or bad news first? Let’s go with good news! Saturday was a lovely day out on the water with lots of sunshine, albeit a bit cold. Parks Lab master’s student Hannah Blair was able to accompany us and she got to see her very first right whale, up close and personal! We were on our game that day and got a tag on an adult right whale (not yet identified) around noon. It was as smooth and successful as anyone could have hoped. Better yet, it was our Acousonde tag that is equipped with a FastLoc GPS on it to track the whales movements along with the other data – tag B004, which we fondly refer to as Scoby. We were pretty excited.

Now for the bad news…we stuck around for hours, never hearing a ping from Scoby. One possibility for this is that the placement of the tag on the animal was such that the antenna was not breaking the surface when the animal came up to take a breath. Our right whale was also almost exclusively subsurface feeding, which meant it only surfaced for a few breaths here and there, but never came out of the water much even when it did. After over 4 hours with the whale, the seas had picked up to a point where we were forced to leave for home. Talk about a stressful decision! Luckily the next few days were supposed to be alright for weather, so we could come back and search for it.

More bad news…the weather the next day decided NOT to cooperate. We weren’t able to go out on the water, so we searched from the beaches high and low. The ping from the transmitter can be heard miles and miles away, so when we didn’t hear anything all day (we didn’t stop searching until after 9pm!) we obviously weren’t very happy. We would continue the search the next day.

So yesterday we woke up during the wee hours of the morning (4am to be exact) and were launched by 7am to resume our search. Using photographs from the day of the tagging, we were actually able to locate our tagged whale. More bad news…the tag was not on it as far as we could tell. The fact that the tag was almost certainly off and yet we still weren’t hearing it was not good. We had been trying so hard to be optimistic (maybe the tag slipped to his belly and it was still on, but we just couldn’t hear it!) but this didn’t look good. We set up the CCS plane with tracking gear the day before, so they listened for it all day as well. We looked and looked all day long, and when the CCS plane was finished for the day (they also heard nothing), the NOAA plane offered to come help us look. We did some tests and it turns out that they could hear one of our other transmitters 17 miles away…but they didn’t get a single ping from our lost Scoby…

It was getting late and the winds were picking up, so we headed in. All the while still listening and hoping. Ever trying to be optimistic, we have not ruled out the possibility that the antenna or transmitter was damaged somehow (definitely possible) and perhaps our tag will wash up on shore. Or maybe it is still on a whale’s belly! If someone were to pick it up, it has Susan’s contact info written on it and hopefully they will let us know.

Tell your friends in the area to keep their eyes out, we want our Scoby back!



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