Just as we were departing, we got a call from the Nereid: they had a mom/calf pair. #3390 and her calf, to be specific. It took us about an hour to get to where the Nereid was. As soon as we arrived we slowed down to begin our search. We heard a blow and got so excited we immediately started to take photo ID shots: pictures of both sides of the head which we can use to identify each whale. More on that later….After several photos our seasoned right whale expert and captain, Monica, stopped and said “Hmmm.” After consulting our onboard guide, she realized this was not our mom. After so many days of no whales, we didn’t stop to think that there may be more than one around! Luckily Monica knew what #3390 looked like and quickly realized our mistake so we didn’t waste too much time photographing the wrong whale (not that it wasn’t a beautiful whale, of course, just not the one we wanted).
Once we took a step back to regroup we saw a whale watching boat and lo and behold, they were watching our pair. All of our hard work searching over the past few weeks was rewarded with a very energetic and charismatic calf!
After a moment of awe, we snapped into action. We had jobs to do and data to collect! One of the hardest parts of field work is forcing yourself to look away from these amazing animals and get to work…Our Nereid helper today was Kelsey, so she helped out by doing our photo ID work (and taking the lovely photos above). The first thing I needed to do was get the hydrophone array in the water. Not a quick task. We have 100m of cable with three hydrophones spaced evenly apart that we attach to a long pole. The cable stretches out behind us and we tow it along, which is why it is called a towed array. One major problem is that with the array out we can’t stop but we can’t go very fast either. That means we are slow and not very maneuverable. Which is a problem when whales decide they are done hanging around and want to move on. Which of course #3390 decided at that moment. Unfortunately, the next couple of hours were a desperate attempt to keep up going 1.5 knots…that’s about 1.7 mph…
Finally we decided that it would be better to try and get some behavioral data without acoustics than no data at all. So we pulled in the array and sped up to catch our whales. We managed to get 10 minutes of video before mom fluked…and then calf fluked…and they were gone. Yes, the whales outsmarted us again, but it is still early enough in the season to be optimistic! They are here and we have found them, and that is good enough to keep our hopes high for another day.