Blue Ocean Society's Whale Sightings

Greetings! Thanks for visiting our blog. Our staff and interns will be posting their experiences here working on whale watch boats in NH and MA.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

September 9 Prince of Whales

Hi Folks,
We had an interesting day today with 5 humpback whales and one entangled right whale.

 Our day began amazingly with five humpback whales near us, and others in the periphery. Our first pair of humpbacks consisted of a season favorite- Valley, and her new friend, Cacophony. This was our first observation of Cacophony on Jeffreys Ledge since the mid- 1990's!
Valley and Cacophony

 Nearby, we found another pair of humpback whales that briefly turned into a trio! Nile, Tectonic and Jabiru were hanging out for a bit until Nile started to flipper-slap. Tectonic took the brunt of her "communication" getting slapped by her massive pectoral fin a couple of times before both Tectonic and Jabiru took off and went their own way. What do these behaviors mean?? We only wish we knew.

Nile, showing her rostrum, blowholes and dorsal fin!

Nile, with both flippers up, and ready to slap!
Nile and Tectonic's flippers

After Nile stopped slapping, and moved off, we decided it was time to go as well. We began our trip back to Newburyport. But about halfway back to shore, we spotted a V-shaped blow and all black, smooth-edged tail in the air! This was undoubtedly a north Atlantic right whale!! Less than 500 right whales are believed to exist in the north Atlantic. Although regulations prevent us from approaching this critically endangered species closely, we could tell, even from a distance that this whale was in trouble. We could see a dark line (rope) going across the whale's head.
Initial image of entangled right whale
  Immediately, we called the NOAA hotline to report this whale and to request permission to approach closer than regulations allow in order to obtain images. Next, we called the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies to see if they could attempt a disentanglement effort

Although this whale did not have a net wrapping its body, or several buoys trailing and rope encircling it more obviously, we still knew it was in trouble. Sometimes the most benign looking issues are actually critical and life-threatening issues.

As we approached more closely, which was difficult as the whale was evasive and moving randomly, we realized just how critical this situation was. The rope just in front of the whale's blowholes was very tight and could be embedded.

Right whale's left side showing rope in front of blowholes

Right whale's right side showing rope and black float

Right whale- right side showing blowholes and rope/float in front of blowholes.

 At the time of the sighting, we did not know who this whale was but after talking with an expert at PCCS, we believed this was right whale #3996, a whale that was first reported entangled back in February- 7 months ago. The right side of the whale's head showed a small black float buoy, which could be consistent with gill netting gear.  After spending nearly an hour with this whale, trying to document the entanglement and waiting for word if a team was coming to help the whale, we heard that, based on the time of day and distance, no one could come to help. The decision to leave the whale was sad, but there was nothing else we could do for it.  We can only hope that this whale is seen again soon, earlier in the day and closer to a response team. Otherwise, well.....

Although I can't say for certain what type of fishing gear was on this whale, or where the whale encountered it, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to research the origins and collection methods of the seafood you consume. I am all for supporting your local industry, as several of my cousins are fishermen, but if that industry is catching seafood that has limited or reduced stocks, or the method by which that seafood is brought to your plate endangers the lives of other animals or habitats, you may want to reconsider your choices. Just think about what other forms of life are being injured or killed in order for you to enjoy your dinner. It is a choice- a very important choice in regards to the whales we love to watch.

I want to thank all of our passengers for their patience as we documented the entangled right whale and made the necessary phone calls. I know it was a long trip- much longer than planned, but that is what we need to do when one of our whales- especially a critically endangered one- is injured and needs assistance.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow Diana! My husband and I were just talking to you about whale entanglements a little over a week ago! How sad. I am sure the passengers didn't mind especially considering the right whales are so scarce. Hopefully you all will be able to get it some help in the future. We love going on the Prince of whales! :O))))