Right Whale

New England Aquarium

Surveys For Right Whales

Radio Tracking 1998-1999

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Radio Tracking Reports
1998-1999 Right Whale Research


"The Fat Lady Sings"
Chris Slay

The Jane Yarn came in on the heels of a fierce northeaster which grounded our aerial reconnaissance for three days and took thousands of cubic yards of sand from our beach. For two days the sky shifted in heavy greys while the sea remained implacable and black. Seven foot waves pounded away at the edge of the continent while offshore the violent interface between air and water must have challenged the calf. Maybe it's learning a thing or two about the stability found at depth; about holding its breath.

As the front cleared out on 02/02/99, pilot Jim White and I bolted the yagi antennas to the wing struts of the Cessna 182 and headed down the beach, about 10 miles off, at 3000'. The wing-mounted contraptions look like TV antennas (for those who remember) and can pick up a signal from the transmitter at 20 nautical miles (NM), sometimes 30. The sea was still somewhat shredded and none of the survey planes were up. We flew past Cape Canaveral, leaving the launching pads over our right shoulders then turned offshore and headed north, 20 NM out, antennas searching 40 NM off.

Nothing. Could she be farther out? In the Gulf Stream? Is it more stable to swim into big waves? How far northeast could she have gone? For the next four days we took the yagis flying. Up the coast as far as Charleston and down to Cocoa Beach. Ranging offshore in the 182, further than I want to admit, back and forth, listening for a signal in the crackling headphones. A week earlier, Jane Yarn's scientists found the piercing chirp of the transmitter as annoying as a faucet dripping in a quiet house. Now, going a little stir crazy, they eagerly volunteered for the fatiguing flights. We also outfitted the Offshore Survey team with tracking gear loaned by the FL-DEP. They were kind enough to monitor their thousand square miles of ocean. For five days our antennas swept the area between Brunswick and St. Augustine, out to 60 NM, while making forays far to the north and south. Still nothing. A helicopter crew conducting maintenance on navigation/meteorological towers off Savannah reported a right whale mother and calf about 20 NM off Ossabaw Island on Friday afternoon. We flew the area Friday and Saturday (02/05, 02/06). No signal.

Another mother was reported off St. Augustine on Sunday by the CSA Survey team. The Offshore team flew in to see if she could be our mom. No signal. Laura Morse, of the Offshore team, ID'd her as a new mom for the year. So we have three calves for 1999. That news more than offset our disappointment that #1612 had vamoosed, or lost her tag, or both.

Fortunately, the Savannah-based chopper crew videotaped the whales they'd seen on 02/05. The Gray's Reef folks obtained a copy for us and the whale on the video appears to be #1612, without her tag. That'd put her about 100 NM north/northeast of where we left her a week ago-- looks like she's headed home. So we'll settle into the process of analyzing ENDher about 100 NM north/northeast of where we left her a week ago-- looks like she's headed home. So we'll settle into the process of analyzing 136 hours of tracking data; otherwise... standing by in Fernandina.

TBA - Data Table of Sightings

Map of 98-99 Right Whale Radio Tracking


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