Right Whales, Wrong Weather

I will be the first to admit that I’ve never really been on a boat.  And that I’ve never been to the Atlantic Ocean.  And that I’ve never actually seen a whale in real life.  So when I had the opportunity to help out with the mom/calf study this season in the Southeast US, I was beyond thrilled!

I left a very snowy Syracuse a few days ago, and I had no idea what to expect with this type of fieldwork.  All my previous experience has been land based, and for the most part, irrespective of weather.  Well, turns out that you don’t actually get to see any whales (or even go out on the boat) when the weather isn’t that great.  We’ve been pretty unlucky here so far.  Wind, rain, fog…we just can’t catch a break.  We did go out on the boat this past Saturday though.  We tested some equipment and played with cameras and laser rangefinders.  No whales on Saturday, but we did spot some dolphins near the boat and some ponies on the beach.  Plus, I managed to squeeze in a lovely evening walk on the beach near our house.

The past couple days have been spent getting the rest of our equipment prepped and, at least for me, learning how to use all of this equipment (CTD, digital recorders, video cameras, fancy camera with super huge lens – much more complicated than the little point-and-shoot Sony I got for Christmas four years ago).  I also got a crash course in North Atlantic Right Whale identification.  There’s an online catalog of all of the known individuals with photos and drawings of their distinctive markings, and there’s even a matching game if you want to try your hand at matching some whales.  It’s pretty fun once you get into it, but it can also be a terribly time consuming and exhausting process.  My first day of whale matching was full of ups and downs, but Jess (fellow grad student) and I ended up correctly matching about five or so whales….which counts as a success in my book!

It looks like the weather is going to clear up and be lovely this weekend, so hopefully we can get a few good days in on the boat!  I can’t wait to see a whale IN REAL LIFE!  And hopefully see a precious little baby whale.  Although “little” is a relative term…these babies are about 13-17 ft. long.

Leanna Matthews                                                                                                                            PhD Student, Parks Lab

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