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Marine Species Monitoring

Whales of Summer

Posted on June 10, 2024

Our baleen whale season in the mid-Atlantic is typically colder months - sometimes starting as early as October, with December and January being the most active. Sightings of humpback and right whales usually slow down in late March through April. While there is sometimes the occasional baleen whale sighting in warmer months – fin whales most frequently - we don’t often see large groups of baleen whales heading into summer. Our pelagic (offshore) surveys tend to focus on odontocetes such as sperm whales and beaked whales. So it came as a bit of a surprise to our research team when a large group of baleen whales was observed during a pelagic survey on 22 May 2024!

 All May 2024 sightings

Overview of sightings from five offshore surveys conducted 22 May to 1 June 2024 

The first part of the day was quiet, with heavy fog starting about 45 miles offshore. A hydrophone was lowered into the water once offshore, but no sperm whales were heard. However, many of the usual pelagic species were sighted including common, bottlenose, and Risso’s dolphins, as well as pilot whales. The research team began to head south and encountered a single fin whale, but no other sightings. As they turned for home and began to make their transit back, they came across a pair of North Atlantic right whales! That pair turned into at least 6 individuals spread out over a couple of kilometers, and 15 or more sei whales also in the area! Basking sharks and at least one fin whale were also seen. There were some fairly drastic water temperature changes as well – ranging from 53.8-70.9° F across a relatively short distance. The whales weren't cooperating for satellite tagging and no suction cup tags were deployed since the weather forecast didn’t look good for recovery then next day, but plans were made to return to the area as soon as possible.


North Atlantic right whale #1050 who hadn't been seen since 2011

tagged fin whale

Tagged fin whale swimming with counterpart

Between 25 May – 01 June, our team completed 5 offshore vessel surveys, logging more than 60 hours of effort, and flew two supporting aerial surveys. Every time we found more groups of baleen whales – and more NARW. Many of the aggregations appeared to be actively feeding – large patches of bait fish at the surface as well as at depth, and vertical tail fluke deep dives common. We deployed 2 CATS tags (1 overnight) and 3 DTAGs (2 overnight) on North Atlantic right whales as well as deployed 2 SPLASH10-F satellite tags and 1 DTAG (overnight) on fin whales and collected one biopsy. We’re excited to see what the data from these tag deployments might reveal about the whales’ activities below the surface.  From the vessel, we’ve had 65 sightings of 7 cetacean species, including 10 sightings of NARWs, 28 sightings of fin whales, 11 sightings of humpback whales, 11 sightings of common dolphins, 3 sightings of bottlenose dolphins, 2 sightings of Risso’s dolphins, 1 sighting of pilot whales, and 3 loggerhead sea turtle sightings. The plane had 15 sightings of 4 species (4 NARWs, 7 fins, 3 humpbacks, and 1 minke). We have documented more than 20 individual North Atlantic right whales, including #3270/Pico and her newly discovered calf.


Retrieved Dtags and CATS tag.

Pico and her calf were the only two right whales seen during the 1 June survey, so it seems possible that the larger numbers of NARWs have finally moved north out of the area. The team headed out on 4 June for one final survey effort hoping to find NARW but none were found, though fin whales, humpback whales, common, bottlenose, and spotted dolphins, pilot whales, and loggerhead sea turtles were still spotted. It was noted that the water temperature had changed upwards by a few degrees and no cool pockets sandwiched in like the scenarios where we previously found right whales. We’ll continue our typical summer offshore efforts focused on locating sperm whales but will be sure to keep an eye out for their baleen whale cousins just in case.  |  |  Navy FOIA  |  DoD Accessibility/Section 508  |  No Fear Act  |  Open Government  |  Plain Writing Act  |  Veterans Crisis Line  |  DoD Safe Helpline  |  Navy SAPR  |  NCIS Tips  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Webmaster  
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