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 August cruise.


After spending two days on land to recoup and resupply from our first leg out in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we then logged eight straight days at sea collecting a variety of data in much nicer weather.

A nice clear look through the water at North Atlantic right whale Ruffian.
A nice clear look through the water at "Ruffian." Photo: Kelsey Howe, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute

And we were not alone out there! Every day, we were communicating with colleagues both on and above the water from Northeast Fisheries Science Center/NOAA and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Collaboration is the name of the game in this field, particularly in the right whale community, where, given the current status of the population, we are in an all-hands-on-deck situation.

Plane flying in the sky
Our NOAA colleagues gives us a fly-by. Photo: Monica Zani, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute
A limpet tag is attached to North Atlantic right whale #1419
Our DFO colleagues attached a limpet tag, visible in this photo, to one of the whales. Photo credit: Kelsey Howe, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute

In addition to documenting 207 sightings of at least 76 individuals (photo processing still underway), we also successfully biopsy darted two whales—Chiminea (Catalog #4040) and a currently uncatalogued individual known as G046! The results from these skin and blubber samples will go into a genetic database that links family trees and allows us to identify decomposed carcasses.

North Atlantic right whale Chiminea is darted.
The confirming shot of Chiminea being darted by a special arrow. Photo: Kelsey Howe, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute

Of all the right whales we photographed, some whales looked to be in fairly good health (fat, black skin, etc.), but many others did not (skinny, gray skin, lesions, deep and raw wounds, etc.). After nine right whale deaths in the Gulf earlier this summer, it was a relief to not discover any new carcasses. However, the visibly poor health of some of these animals is a stark reminder that this species is still suffering.

North Atlantic right whale #3812 photographed with a large swatch of white lesions and orange cyamids on his lip
#3812 photographed with a large swatch of white lesions and orange cyamids on his lip. Photo: Kelsey Howe, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute
North Atlantic right whale
Platypus is seen with a large erupting lesion on her back. Photo: Hansen Johnson, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute
Rough and mottle skin is seen the fluke of a North Atlantic right whale.
Really rough and mottled skin, as seen on this fluke, were not uncommon sights this summer in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Photo: Monica Zani, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute
North Atlantic right whale Sirius with a wound on its back
Sirius was first seen with this massive back wound in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2017; the wound continues to heal. Photo: Meg Carr, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute
North Atlantic right whale #4601
North Atlantic right whale #4601 was first seen last year in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with horrific entanglement wounds that continue to heal. Photo: Kelsey Howe, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute
Open wounds on North Atlantic right whale #4440
#4440 is now gear-free thanks to the heroic efforts by the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, but still has open wounds. Photo: Monica Zani, New England Aquarium/Canadian Whale Institute

 


 

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.