Right whale blog - Day 17

Just before the generator is turned on at 7 am we can hear it raining hard on deck. Several people heard a large bump in the early hours of the morning. I slept right through it. Sounds like a whale bumped into the boat during the night. We’ve been spoilt with excellent weather so far. There have been showers of rain, snow and hail at times. But most days we’ve had long dry periods and quite a bit of sunshine. The sun sure makes a difference in terms of the temperature. When the sun is out you can feel it on your back, even through the wet weather gear. This morning, we delay launching the small boats until it stops raining. According to the forecast, we will get quite a bit of rain and wind today. But the rain soon clears and it’s another lovely day. Very little wind. Will and I survey Laurie Harbour. Lots of whales, including one of the white calves. The mother of the white calf is really easy to approach and frequently lifts her head so we can see the upper lip which is important for individual identification. One of the other females gives us the run around. She frequently changes direction, goes into very shallow water and stirs up the mud. Will reckons she is giving herself a mud pack. She’s hard work, so we try another whale. We often get a good photo-ID image on the first or second approach to a whale. At most we will try three or four approaches, but usually give up after that. This means we avoid chasing the whales around and increase our effectiveness. A whale that is difficult to approach one day is often no problem the next day, so it’s not worth harassing them to get an ID picture. Initially we went out with Bob, to try to take some more blow samples. But the drone was not sending a video image or other information about its location, etc. This is the drone that has been in the water, and seems to be working intermittently. It flies reliably, but the communications between the drone and Bob’s controller fails from time to time.

We also have a minor overflow problem with the poo tank today. The toilets on board empty into a holding tank and we regularly take the big boat offshore to empty the tank. Otherwise, the day goes really well. Lots of whales, good weather. Both teams have great success in collecting photo-ID data and Steve flies his drone all morning. Even manages to catch some video of a whale breaching with the drone. When a whale starts breaching it’s usually futile to approach with a small boat unless the whale is really close. It takes too long to get there with a boat and causes too much disturbance – to the breaching whale and other whales in the area. With a drone, you can travel 30 knots without causing any disturbance to the whales at all. The afternoon is particularly productive. Bob gets several snot samples, despite the fact that his drone frequently loses either video signal or data signal or both. The whales are particularly cooperative, with one mum approaching us so closely that she gives us a good fright. She approaches the bow of Cetos very closely and then turns on her side, giving us a very close look before diving with her calf. I’m too stunned to get a good photograph of her open eye. By the time I lift the camera to take a picture her eye is half closed, but it’s still an amazing photo. On the way home we see a breaching whale and get some good photographs of that too. Steve breaks the 100 flights record. He is now up to 101 flights. We are way beyond satisfing the “proof of concept” that we promised in the grant application. Any more drone data will be the icing on the cake.
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