Researchers with the Right Whale Research Program at the Anderson Cabot Center were key members of two research cruises in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this summer. These are the updates from the July cruise.

The third and last leg of the July cruise in the Gulf of St. Lawrence turned out to last an impressive nine days straight at sea! After being docked while a weather system passed through, we began surveys again on July 14. The first three days were a little slow compared to what would come. The TUBSS (Towed Underwater Biological Sampling System) was deployed by the Dalhousie and University of New Brunswick plankton team, and it collected multiple types of data over 60-plus miles of trackline. We were unable to break track to photograph right whales during this time, but we managed to take photos of a few individuals when they were close enough.

On July 17, we caught a look at “Gully” (Catalog #4601), who we spent a lot of time with last summer when he wouldn’t leave the bow of our boat (while we were stopped). Just a 2-year-old then, he survived a severe entanglement and was left with horrific injuries that were still raw. While we were relieved to see he hadn’t lost a lot of weight, the damage to his head is worse than we could have imagined, and it’s unclear how this injury will affect his future.

Deep wound on North Atlantic right whale #4601 from fishing gear entanglement.
Deep wound on "Gully" (#4601) from fishing gear entanglement. Photo: New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute.

The high point of that day was encountering mom Catalog #2791 and her calf, who were curious about our vessel and approached us. They seemed comfortable with the boat and hung around; it was an all-hands-on-deck moment that provided amazing looks at the pair. Our cameras were smoking because of how many photos we took (just kidding), but we captured all the features of the calf that we needed to help us identify it as it ages and to officially catalog it in the future. Two additional mom-and-calf pairs were documented on this leg of the trip: Catalog #2503 (Boomerang) and #4180. We attempted to collect a biopsy sample from #4180 because we have no genetic information for her, but she’s a protective mother who avoided our approaches. Hopefully, the field teams will have better luck after her calf weans.

North Atlantic right whale Mom #2791 and her calf.
Mom #2791 and her calf in July 2019. Photo: New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute.

One of our greatest accomplishments on this trip came on July 19. The Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) aerial team spotted an entangled right whale (Catalog #3125) that was first seen July 4. The team relayed the position to us. With an estimated 300 feet of line trailing behind the whale, our mate Guy Lanteigne and senior scientist Amy Knowlton grappled the trailing line and attached our satellite telemetry buoy. The buoy allowed the whale to be tracked for 900 miles and receive disentanglement attempts from two different teams, Tangly Whales and Center for Coastal Studies. These attempts yielded several cuts and removal of the heavy trailing gear. While the whale is still entangled and in poor condition, it’s possible that some of the remaining gear may be shed due to the work of the disentanglement teams, who were assisted and supported by NMFS, NEFSC, CWRT, MARS, and DFO.

Multiple wraps of rope cross the head of North Atlantic right whale #3125
Multiple wraps of rope cross the head of #3125. Photo: New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute.

This July cruise was action-packed! A whopping 15 days were spent at sea, and so far we’ve identified 82 individual right whales that we photographed. We collected three fecal samples, one biopsy sample, and a whole lot of plankton samples. We documented three entangled whales, four mom-and-calf pairs, and several surface-active groups. The bar has been set high for the August cruise, and we can’t wait to hear what they found!

Three whales in a SAG. Photo: New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute.
Team July at the end of their cruise.

More About the Right Whale Research Program. 

This work is made possible in part by the generosity of Irving Oil, lead sponsor of the New England Aquarium’s North Atlantic right whale research program.