RIGHT WHALE RESEARCH
The Nereid’s First Day Out
Getting ready for an offshore trip requires loads of time and energy, but even preparing for our day trips in the Bay of Fundy takes a lot of work. We did a deep cleaning of our research vessel, Nereid, before storing whale disentanglement gear, some dive gear (in case our propeller needs disentangling), and all sorts of safety equipment. A day was used to review what to do in case of different emergencies, how to use our new head (toilet), and calibrate our sense of distance so we can properly report sightings while on survey. We also went over the boat’s pre-survey setup, some of which involves a laptop, the data recording software “Mysticetus,” a GPS unit, a satellite phone, an inverter, and marine radios.
On Sunday, our crew of six (Amy, Marilyn, Bill, Marianna, Yan, and Celia) boarded the Nereid and got off the dock at 7 AM. The winds were calm and the sea was glassy as we passed the northern part of Grand Manan Island. However, the sky was overcast and soon it started raining, so we pulled the observers off the bow and tried to wait it out under the protective cover of the dodger.
The clouds seemed to be playing tricks with us, letting rain turn into a sprinkle and then stop, but not long after putting observers back on the bow, we would need to take them down again. We checked in with our ground contact a few times to get updates on the forecast, and decided to continue surveying the Bay because the winds light and it didn’t seem like the weather would turn against us. While the rain did mean that we conducted most of our watches from under the dodger, we still had good visibility and felt that we didn’t miss any whales. We did see three minke whales, two basking sharks, ten grey + harbor seals, and approximately 176 harbor porpoise.
In the afternoon, Bill took out his plankton net and we did a short tow. The sample mostly contained plankton that we haven’t identified yet, but the copepods that right whales like to eat were either not plentiful enough for us to spot them, or nonexistent. Either way, the tow was informative enough for us to deduce that copepods, at least in the small area we sampled, aren’t currently abundant.
As we began our trip home, we passed by an awesome sight: a huge fog bank with banks forming behind it. This region is so familiar with fog that no one bats an eye at it, but getting to see it from a distance as a well-defined form is simply… very cool. Almost as cool as the marine layer trapped under the warm air mass that helped form this bank (thanks, Wikipedia!).
We eventually got a very close look at another fog bank, as we were engulfed in it nearing Campobello Island and were forced to end our survey. Thanks to our RADAR and the loud fog horn at East Quoddy lighthouse, we safely made our way around the island, broke through the bank, and were treated to the beauty that surrounds the Head Harbor Passage.