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right whale tail at ocean surface The tail of one of the right whales briefly sighted off Martha's Vineyard Feb. 21. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Pete Duley, NEFSC. Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355
right whale viewed from above A view from above of a right whale just below the surface, taken June 8, 2014 during an NEFSC aerial survey. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christin Khan, NEFSC

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February 28, 2017
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

NEFSC Trip to Acoustic Buoy Proves Productive for Whale Sightings

A day-long trip to an acoustic buoy in Rhode Island Sound led to the sightings of a dozen North Atlantic right whales on Feb. 21. Researchers Pete Duley, Allison Henry, Lisa Conger and Leah Crowe from the NEFSC’s Protected Species Branch at the Woods Hole Laboratory took a trip in one of the Center’s small boats, R/V Selkie, to check out an acoustic mooring south of Martha’s Vineyard near Nomans Land.

“The mooring was reporting a lot of detections, so we thought we would take a trip since it wasn’t far away,” said Duley, who along with several others in the boat usually see whales from the air as part of the Center's aerial survey team.  “We left the lab at 8 a.m. and returned at 6 p.m., and saw more than we ever expected.”

The first whale, a single individual, was sighted at 9:55 a.m. just south of Nomans Land. “We then turned the boat to the east, and encountered a group of three whales, then a group of five, and several others, all closer to the buoy,” Duley said.  “They were making 15-minute dives and surfacing only briefly, so it was really hard to photograph them, but they were all right whales.”

Duley said the good weather helped with the sighting. A second boat, the R/V Tioga from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), was also involved as part of a two-boat effort, which is required for safety at sea in winter months. The WHOI team was sampling copepods with a plankton net and had another instrument package with a video plankton recorder (VPR) and a CTD (Conductivity/temperature/depth) that was dropped straight down through the water near feeding whales in the area. The buoy is part of the Northeast Acoustic Network (NEPAN).

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