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.

We can’t believe this is our fifth consecutive year of looking for right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence! This July, our Anderson Cabot Center team (consisting of Amy Knowlton, Megan McOsker, and myself) has joined up with the Canadian Whale Institute, Dalhousie University, and the University of New Brunswick for a three-week block of field work based out of Shippagan, New Brunswick. Our time at sea will be spent aboard a fishing vessel, Captained by a fisherman who has been supportive of and involved with the development of new fishing gear technologies that may help reduce severe entanglements of large whales.

Prepping the research vessel. Photo Courtesy: Marianna Hagbloom

Members of the team arrived on July 2, and the following day consisted of loading lots and lots of equipment- scientific instruments, plankton nets, sonobuoys, cameras, computers, safety equipment, whale disentanglement gear, food, and personal gear. After loading, the next steps were to put things in their proper places, and to test equipment (so much equipment!).

Some of the gear. Photo Courtesy: Marianna Hagbloom.

Loading oceanographic equipment. Photo Courtesy: Marianna Hagbloom.

The latest aerial survey found right whales not too far from our location (about 34 miles from Shippagan as the crow flies, but almost 50 miles to transit there by boat since we need to go the long way around Miscou Island). This is great news for us, because the whales had been aggregating more to the north and east. The plankton information that the academic team will be collecting is vital to understanding how and why right whales are using the area, and we are excited to be a part of it. Our responsibilities will be a combination of our typical work (photographing right whales for identification and health assessment, collecting behavioral data, sampling feces and genetic material), and new tasks which complement the plankton study (measuring distance and movement of individuals around plankton sampling).

After the shock of six right whale mortalities in June, followed by sightings of two different entangled individuals with poor outlooks, Amy, Megan and I are hoping to balance out the bad with lots of healthy, live whales. Fingers and toes crossed!

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.