Monday, July 11, 2011

Bahamas Expedition: The vagaries of weather, whales and research

The weather called for light winds, so both boats left the beach just before 7 a.m. We decided to look for sperm whales, surveying about 24 miles north-south in the deep waters offshore, using both hydrophones and binoculars.

Baby bottlenosed dolphin (Photo: BMMRO/ C. Dunn)

No luck on the sperm whales, with silence everywhere on the hydrophones (sperm whales announce themselves by clicking pretty clearly if they are in the area). No luck on the weather either, as we found ourselves in a sea state of beaufort 4+ by 11 a.m. (3- to 4-ft. seas with constant whitecaps). We finally ran inshore into calmer waters, and found some bottlenosed dolphins over Rocky Point bank that Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization (BMMRO) had been following for years. That was fun, but it was not our mission. And, as all marine biologists know, when the weather kicks you, there is only one thing to do--eat. So we had lunch.

Male Blainsvilles beaked whale - note protruding teeth! (Photo: BMMRO/ K. Ferguson)

Then we tried offshore for sperm whales again, but once again, no sounds, and the wind, while subsiding, was still unpleasant. Heading south once more, the winds finally dropped to about 10 knots, and the seas died out. Kendria and Roz spotted beaked whales off to one side, a large male and another animal. Shortly later we found three more, juveniles or females. Towing divers on both sides, Roz and Diane finally got samples of a defecation around 4:30 in the afternoon. Then the wind started picking up, so we headed for home--refueling for tomorrow, and we are ready for another early day tomorrow.

Roz surfaces with a sample! (Photo: BMMRO/K. Ferguson)


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