Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Right Whales, Wrong Weather

I will be the first to admit that I’ve never really been on a boat.  And that I’ve never been to the Atlantic Ocean.  And that I’ve never actually seen a whale in real life.  But when I had the opportunity to help out my advisor (Susan Parks) with her ongoing North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) mother/calf study, there was no way I could turn it down…ten days in Florida to play with whales and hydrophones?  Yes, please!  

When I left a very snowy Syracuse a few days ago, I had no idea what to expect with this type of fieldwork.  Whales are pretty big, right?  So how hard could they be to find?  Well, turns out that you don’t actually get to see any whales (or even go out on the boat) when the weather is terrible.  We’ve been unlucky with the weather here so far.  Wind, rain, fog…we just can’t catch a break.  We did go out on the boat this past Saturday though.  We tested some equipment and played with cameras and laser rangefinders.  No whales on Saturday, but we did spot some dolphins near the boat and some ponies on the beach.

The past couple days have been spent getting the rest of our equipment prepped and at least for me, learning how to use all of this equipment.  I also got a crash course in North Atlantic Right Whale identification.  Because there aren’t really that many of these guys left (only about 500), researchers are able to keep up with basically the entire population.  There’s an online catalog of all of the known individuals with photos and drawings of their distinctive markings, and there’s even a matching game if you want to try your hand at matching some whales.  It’s pretty fun once you get into it, but it can also be a terribly time consuming and exhausting process.  My first day of whale matching was full of ups and downs, but we ended up correctly matching about five or so whales….which counts as a success in my book!

It looks like the weather is going to clear up and be lovely this weekend, so hopefully we can get a few good days in on the boat!  I can’t wait to see a whale IN REAL LIFE!  And hopefully see a precious little baby whale.  Little is a relative term…these babies are still like 13-17 ft. long. 

You can find more updates from the field on the Parks Lab Field Blog.

If we can't go out on the boat, might as well enjoy a walk on the beach

FUN SCIENCE FACT #31: Male right whales have the largest testicles of any animal, weighing in at one metric ton (2204.62 pounds).  You never know when facts like these might come in handy on trivia night.

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