After weeks of repair, our research vessel Nereid was finally ready to launch. We prepared her for surveys by checking up on safety gear and loading gear that will stay on the boat for the season. We taught Florencia Vilches, a Southern right whale researcher and MCAF Fellow who is working with us for two weeks, our hand signals and data recording methods. The fog kept us on land for a few days, but we were ready to go when the weather turned in our favor.

Scientists on boat.
Teaching MCAF Fellow Florencia Vilches the team's hand signals. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom.

On July 19, Amy woke us up at 0500 and, after going over boat safety, we were off the dock shortly after 0630. As we transited to the east of Grand Manan Island, we encountered a pair of humpback whales and stopped to document them. The pair were not fluking up, so we did the best we could and photographed the dorsal fins. Shortly after, we found three humpbacks traveling together and got some great identifying shots. They were in an area with many fin whales – we counted as least five in a group as they lunged to the surface. It seemed like they were taking advantage of a feast below the waves.

A group of humpback whales (left). Photo: Florencia Vilches. A very distinctive humpback fluke (center). Photo: Amy Knowlton. Florencia and Kelsey photograph a humpback (right). Photo: Marianna Hagbloom. 

We had made our way further into the Grand Manan Basin when the most wonderful thing happened – we found a right whale! Springing into action, we were able to photograph the whale and tracked it through a dive cycle. We made a tentative match to Catalog #3991 on the boat, but since we couldn’t cinch the ID due to a difference in callosity, we decided to collect a skin sample just in case it wasn’t #3991 (better to be safe than sorry, especially with these short field sessions). The sampling was a success, and, back in the office that night, we were able to confirm the ID as #3991.

Right whale #3991 with mud on her head.
Right whale #3991 with mud on her head. Photo: Johanna Anderson
Fluke of right whale #3991.
Beautiful flukes of #3991. Photo: Celia Jellison

While waiting for our first right whale to resurface, another right whale was spotted less than a mile away! It was heading in our direction, and soon we were able to photograph it as well. Although it looked young based on head shape, we were able to ID it as an 11-year-old male named Eros (Catalog #3701), who just has a funny shaped head. Inspired by Greek mythology, Eros was named because he is the son of Aphrodite (#1701).

A great headshot of Eros.
A great headshot of Eros. Photo: Johanna Anderson
Eros has faint propeller scars on his back.
Eros has faint propeller scars on his back. Photo: Kelsey Howe

Eros (#3701) has faint propeller scars on his back. Photos courtesy Johanna Anderson (left) and Kelsey Howe (right).  

By the time we wrapped up our survey, our large whale count included 22 humpback whales, 11 fin whales, and five minke whales. Although the smallest species count was right whales, those sightings were worth more than all the others combined!

Read more stories from the 2018 Field Season!