Our spring biopsy sampling project with Northeast Fisheries Science Center wrapped up in mid-May, when the right whales left Cape Cod Bay. We are thrilled with the success we had this year!

The team photographed 97 individual whales and biopsy sampled 11 individuals for which we needed genetic information. There were approximately 80 individuals seen within the last 10 years on our sampling list, so we checked off almost 14 percent of them in a two-month span! Our team leader and crossbow operator, Lisa, deserves a gold medal for her efforts. Keep reading for some sighting highs—and one low.

[IMG] Lisa stands by to biopsy the right whale.
Lisa stands by for the right moment to shoot. Photo: Marianna Hagbloom

Right Whale Catalog #4095 is a bit of a mystery because there is plenty we don’t know about him/her. This individual was first seen in 2010, but we don’t know when the whale was born. There are only six sightings of it in the catalog, all from the Northeast with the exception of one sighting off Virginia.

One vessel sighting from 2011 consists of only one side of the head, and the other five sightings are aerials, which made it a challenge matching this individual in real-time. Now we have a variety of images from vessels (even showing a white belly and white chin!), which will make future matches to this whale easier.

[IMG] Whale #4095 feeding at the surface.]
Catalog #4095 feeds at the surface. Photo: Kelsey Howe

Catalog #1805 was another individual we felt lucky to cross paths with. We didn’t need to dart him because he was previously sampled, but what makes this sighting so special is that he hadn’t been seen since 2011! This seven-year gap was not the first time he ventured out of survey range; there were no sightings of him from 1992 to 2001.

[IMG] Photo of catalog #1805.
Surprise! It’s Catalog #1805. Photo: Monica Zani

Catalog #3823 has a history of fishing-gear entanglement, with at least four known interactions from scaring analysis done here at the Anderson Cabot Center. She was last seen in 2017 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but wasn’t biopsy sampled. She came to Cape Cod Bay this spring, and the team was successful in darting her! Sadly, our photographs show new wounds from a severe entanglement interaction that took place since her last sighting, meaning she’s been entangled at least five times now.

[IMG] Scars on the head of #3823 left by rope.
Scars on the head of #3823 left by rope. Photo: Monica Zani
[IMG] scarred whale approaches
Extensive scaring on the peduncle and fluke seen as #3823 approaches. Photo: Monica Zani

Scars on the head of #3823 left by rope (left). Extensive scarring on the peduncle and fluke can be seen as #3823 approaches (right). Photos: Monica Zani. 

To end on happy notes, our team saw the 2017 calf of #2614! One of just five calves born last year, it lifts our spirits to know this vulnerable little whale survived its first year and appears to be a healthy yearling!

The yearling lifting his head.
The yearling lifts his head. Photo: Henry Milliken

We also had several days of watching sei whales feed near right whales. They too were taking advantage of the plankton bloom, and it was thrilling to see them lunge onto their sides to gulp up as many copepods as they could.

[IMG] Feeding sei whale.
A set whale feeds. Photo: Henry Milliken
A look at the throat pleats of a sei whale.
The throat pleats of a set whale are seen. Photo: Henry Milliken

Sei whales feed. The whale’s throat pleats are visible on the right. Photos: Henry Milliken.