The tagging

Well today marks the end of our good weather stretch, but with 4 great days on the water within a 5 day period we have very little to complain about! The past few days are a blur, but what I can tell you is that we got a little bit of everything. That is, everyday we got all the data we set out to collect! The only exception to that is the tag data…we have been trying very hard to get a tag on but it is just as hard as you might expect. So we have not had very good luck as of yet. Good news from yesterday though – we finally got our first tag on! Let me explain a little bit about how the process works so you can appreciate how much work goes into it and share in our feeling of accomplishment.

In the morning we have to load the batteries into the tag and use a Palm Pilot to program it to record the data how we want it (meaning the correct frequency and sample rate, etc. etc.). Then we have to clean the suction cups to make sure they are clear of dust or oils and ready to stick to a whale. Then they get placed inside a hardy Pelican case to protect them in transit.

Once we find a mom/calf pair we then need to assess if they are “taggable”. A taggable whale is one that is calm and resting, not travelling or excited in any way. We don’t want to chase any whales or approach them in any sort of aggressive manner, so we are very picky about what we deem a taggable whale. Yesterday we had a whale that was nice and relaxed and didn’t seem to mind us coming close. That was my cue: I had to get out a tag, use the Palm to tell it to begin recording, and attach the transmitter so we would be able to track it. While I was doing that, Pete was starting to put the tag pole together which consists of three long sections of a carbon fiber that need to be attached to one another using a very sophisticated method – wire and electrical tape. Once that was set I snapped the tag into the holder at one end, secured a line from the other end of the pole to the boat, and we were finally ready to tag!

Using our electric motor so as to be “discrete” and not spook the whales, we began to slowly approach. We finally got close enough and Pete ever so casually plopped the tag down. It stuck! Success! We began tracking the tag using a receiver that makes a clicking sound whenever the antenna at the top of the tag comes to the surface. After only about 15 minutes we began to hear a constant clicking but could see no whales, meaning the tag was off the whale and floating somewhere at the surface. Bummer! We quickly spotted the tag (which is bright orange to make it easy to locate) and brought it back on board. It was only on for a short while, but 15 minutes is better ┬áthan nothing and we were all pretty excited!

Photo: Will Cioffi

We are having a pretty successful season so far in my opinion; lots of data, a good amount of mother/calf pairs, and still three weeks left to get even more! Now I have quite a bit of work to do before our next boat day, but that is definitely a good thing! Before I go, here is another beautiful sunset photo taken from the boat. A brilliant way to end a great day!

Photo: Pete Duley

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