2009 April 2 Problems with the HD camera with 3 humpbacks under me-16 new flukes and 2 new matches Print
Written by Andrew Stevenson   

We set off on Bob Steinhoff's boat  Dom Pérignon from Somerset Bridge at 9.15 am with Camilla, Ron Lucas and Nicole Reed. It's a calm day but dark winter clouds hang over us.

Before 10 am we are shadowing three whales in shallow water and they start swimming around us. Camilla and I get our wetsuits on and are about to get in the water when the whales take off as another boat approaches. We shadow the whales and eventually they come back to us. But the high definition camera doesn't work. The pictures below say it all:

   

 

   

Meanwhile, while we are trying to fix the problem, the whales are having a great time. but the video camera still won't work. So, we decide to give up on the underwater stuff and get some fluke shots. Soon after moving towards the edge of the Bermuda platform we pick up two fluke ids in about 600 feet of water. This isn't normally where we'd expect to see whales feeding but soon after observing the whales we see circular areas where the suface of the ocean is disturbed, as if it were raining in just that spot. Nicole, who researches whales in Bar Harbour Maine, tells us that they see this in Maine too and it is the krill that have been driven to the surface by whales. We also find distinct upwellings here with lots of Portuguese-Man-o'-Wars and hundreds of tiny by-the-wind sailors (velella velella) are floating in a tight group.  Several mangled fish are also seen.

Dropping the hydrophone over we can hear whales singing. We continue to Challenger and sure enough, as we approach the south eastern edge we find two whales feeding. Dropping the hydrophone overboard again it seems as if there is a party going on, whale song upon whale song so that it is impossible to distinguish one song from the other. There is also abundant activity with several groups of whales around the south eastern edge. Eventually we pick up a surface active group and stick with them for a while. My preliminary assessment of the photographs I took today indicates we have sixteen individual fluke ids. I come back home and find an email from Dr Peter Stevick with two more matches, including an underwater one sent from the video footage from March 12th. Here is part of his email and my underwater fluke id:

'That beautiful underwater photograph that you recently sent of your whale #0146 has some very distinctive markings. It jumped out at me yesterday as I was going through the collection for other reasons. It is NAHWC#8732 - Pogo. We have Gulf of Maine records of that whale from 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, and now Bermuda 2009. I am contacting the contributors of those records and will provide you with more details and hopefully a photograph once I have heard back from them. Fun stuff.

'I also recognized your 0145 as an individual that we photographed during the YoNAH project, but have not yet integrated into the NAHWC. It is Y2311. It was photographed on three different dates between early Feb and early March of 1993 on Silver Bank. I attach a photograph taken by CCS/YoNAH.'

That is very interesting that the underwater fluke id of  #0156 was seen in those years in GOM. This was the gam of four youngish (juveniles I thought) females that swam very close together. Some of the still frames from that video are on the previous day's diary entry. You can now also see that video footage on:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEYKYp99hbE&feature=channel_page 

I assumed these whales were young females wintering on the mid-oceans, being too young to bother going down south to breed. That would put # bd 0156 as seven years old at least. She was the bravest of the four whales and it was she who consistently came close to me and flirted with me by showing her belly (and her genitals and her tail). If she wasn't seen before 2002, and if she keeps showing up consistently in Maine, I'd take a guess that she is a young female that is ready to go south next year. It's fascinating getting this underwater window into their lives and being able to match their flukes at the same time! Very exciting stuff.

For Camilla's detailed data sheet notes, go to this date on the Diary Data Sheets