Long Eddy finished, for now…

I’m finally back at the Duke Marine lab, after a series of adventures in Massachusetts that don’t really need dwelling on. It’s great to be back – seeing family, friends and getting on with things that have been waiting for some attention for a bit.

[photo size=’small’ align=’right’ title=’Andrew Westgate loves the Long Eddy!’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/NauticalWestgate.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/NauticalWestgate.jpg[/photo]

The Long Eddy field season was a fantastic success. We got two tags out, which may seem like a small number to many. Keep in mind however, we were tagging fin whales at their most erratic – as they exploit discrete patches of prey within an island wake system. This is truly a great success, and paves the way for future proposals. We’ve surveyed the wake extensively now with the echo sounder system, providing essential baseline data on how the “middle” portion of the food web coalesces and dissipates each tidal cycle. We’ve also captured the physical properties of the water column within the Long Eddy with CTD casts.

I’d like to finish up by thanking the field team: Julia Burrows, Jerry Moxley, TJ Young and Susan Heaslip. Ari and I are really grateful for your help with the project.

I’d also like to thank Heather Koopman, Rob Ronconi and Andrew Westgate from the GMWSRS for their boat skills and logistical help – we could not have done it without them.

We also could not have done it without the help of Ken Ingersoll and his big truck. Thanks Ken!

When we’ve had a look at the data we’ll post a roundup for this year as well, stay tuned.

[photo size=’large’ title=’Phocoena surveying the Long Eddy’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/PhocoenaBye.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/PhocoenaBye.jpg[/photo]

Just another day of fieldwork in the Long Eddy….

The weather was great from Tuesday through Friday, calm seas, light wind, and sun, but then took a turn for the worse to more typical Grand Manan weather…wind and fog.  It was blowing a good 25 knots on Saturday, keeping us onshore, but Sunday morning, we awoke to no wind and fog.  These conditions weren’t good for the tagging boat because they need calm weather and clear skies to spot whales, but the prey mapping boat can operate in fog since what we are looking for is all below the ocean’s surface.  We decided to make the most of the weather and head out to calibrate the echosounder.  We went to a more protected area on the eastern side of Grand Manan and tied up our boat.  We then hung a perfectly rounded sphere of known sound backscattering strength under each frequency of the echosounder (38 and 120 kHz).  We moved the sphere around attempting to cover the entire beam of the echosounder and recorded data during this process.

[photo size=’medium’ align=’right’ title=’Here’s an image of the final product. Red dots are where the values for backscattering strength of the sphere are above expectations, and blue dots are values below expectations. The green dots are those closest to the center axis.’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/Screen-shot-2011-09-05-at-12.30.51-PM.png’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/Screen-shot-2011-09-05-at-12.30.51-PM.png[/photo]Things went surprisingly smoothly during the calibration, in large part because TJ and I had done a practice calibration at the dock the day before.  Of course, the day wouldn’t have been complete without some type of echosounder malfunction.  Just as we were finishing up calibration of the 120 kHz echosounder, the program decided to crash and we had to redo the calibration.   We did prevail in the end though, completing a quick second calibration just as the fog had burned off.

The tagging team met us out on the water and began to search for whales during flood tide in the afternoon.  We (prey sampling team) began to run line transects. In the eddy  Conditions weren’t as nice as they were the week prior, and it was quite challenging to deploy the towfish (that’s what we call the device we with the echosounder in it, see the picture of it on the deck of the boat) as we were rocking and rolling broadside to the chop in our small boat.  We managed to survey three lines before we called it a day.  The tagging boat was unsuccessful in finding a fin whale, and only saw two minke whales and a handful of porpoise all afternoon.  We do always have bird sightings, and the Greater Shearwater is the most common bird we see while we are sampling in the eddy.

[photo size=’large’ title=’Greater Shearwater’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/Xx_20110904_S6_C-IMG578151.jpeg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/Xx_20110904_S6_C-IMG578151.jpeg[/photo] Our lack of fin whale sightings was a reminder that despite working in a very predictable system (regular tides, prey aggregations, and marine mammal predators), unlike physics, animals are unpredictable and are not always around when you expect them to be.

[photo size=’medium’ align=’right’ title=’Brrr’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/Xx_20110904_S6_C-IMG5787.jpeg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/Xx_20110904_S6_C-IMG5787.jpeg[/photo]

I would have to say what might be the most exciting thing that happened all day was when we got a call on the radio that Jerry, our new whale tagger, had unintentionally taken a swim in the cold waters of the Bay of Fundy.  According to Jerry, he was trying to rescue a baby harbor porpoise who was stuck in a bucket, all the while fighting off a killer whale who was trying to have the porpoise calf for diner…but we all know what really happened.  He was in fact doing a good deed by collecting trash from the Bay – a bucket.  The bucket, to his surprise, was filled with water and was heavier than he expected and simply pulled him over the side.  He did manage to hang onto the boat, so was able to swing himself back in fairly quickly, but not before his self-inflating life jacket went off.

We wrapped up the evening with a delicious dinner with old and new friends at the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station.  Stories were told of when our advisors  (Dave Johnston, Heather Koopman, and Andrew Westgate) were graduate students patrolling the herring weirs for trapped harbor porpoise and drinks were shared among many.  All in all, just another day of fieldwork in the Long Eddy….with many new stories in the making.

The Long Eddy: Sustenance, Scenery and Science

gmmapThe Long Eddy, situated on the northern tip of Grand Manan Island, is a beautiful and stimulating place, full of animals and energy. In a short span of minutes the ocean can change from glassy flat to boiling with upwellings and chop. A calm scene with a lone slowly-rolling porpoise changes into a cacophony of life – from krill to fin whales – in mere minutes. The predictable nature of the system, driven by unchanging physics, has long led people to this place for sustenance, scenery and science.

Let’s start with sustenance; it usually comes first. Indigenous peoples in the Bay of Fundy knew a lot about the Long Eddy and how it worked – it provided predictable access to an important resource – porpoises. In the late 1800s, porpoises were extremely valuable in the new currency-based economy faced by the Passamaquoddy Indians living on and near Grand Manan. Their meat was consumed and traded, but they were hunted mainly because the little animals were so rich in valuable oil. This oil was useful for light and lubrication, and mainland Passmaquoddy tribe members would canoe across to Grand Manan from the Campobello Island region to hunt porpoises in the Long Eddy and render them for oil on Indian Beach, a rocky beach on the northwest side of the island. These hunts were executed from canoes with spears and primitive rifles, and C.C. Ward published an excellent article in the October 1880 issue of Scribner’s Monthly that describes the process. The image at left illustrates the hunt being conducted in the Long Eddy, and those familiar with the island will recognize the Bishop headland in the background, with Fish Head rising out of the fog in the backdrop.

[su_nt_quote name=”C. C. Ward,  1880″]Where are we going now, Sebatis?” “Goin’ away long eddy, off northern head.” “Is that a good place for porpoises?” “Sartin; always on rips very good place; you see, plenty mackerals, herrin’s, and all kinds fishes in eddies and rips; very good feedin’-ground for porpusis, you see.” The eddies or rips alluded to by Sebatis were caused by the obstruction offered by projecting headlands to the ebb and flow of the tide…[/su_nt_quote]

ccwardhunt

The Passamaquoddy knew how the Long Eddy worked, perhaps best illustrated by this quote from the Ward 1880 paper, relating a discussion between Sebatis, a Passamaquoddy tribe member and the author:
“Where are we going now, Sebatis? ”
Goin’ away long eddy, off northern head.” 
“Is that a good place for porpoises?”
 “Sartin; always on rips very good place; you see, plenty mackerals, herrin’s, and all kinds fishes in eddies and rips; very good feedin’-ground for porpusis, you see.” 
The eddies or rips alluded to by Sebatis were caused by the obstruction offered by projecting headlands to the ebb and flow of the tide…

taggagefeat

Let’s move on to scenery. Whale watching is now a lucrative world-wide industry that champions the non-consumptive use of cetaceans. The industry focuses on the aesthetic value of whales, channeling John Muir’s original visions of the value of nature. Whale-watching is an important industry on Grand Manan and in other coastal communities in the lower Bay of Fundy, with several operators taking people offshore to see right whales, humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, ubiquitous harbor porpoises and other big, beautiful ocean creatures. Several operators frequent the Long Eddy, some from Grand Manan and others from communities in Passamaquoddy Bay. Much like the original Passamaquoddy peoples crossing from the mainland to Grand Manan to hunt porpoises, mainland whale-watchers speed across the Grand Manan Channel in catamarans and zodiacs to watch porpoises, minke whales and fin whales dive and lunge amidst the aggregations of herring and krill, as shearwaters and other seabirds look on. Speaking from experience, it doesn’t get old. The magnitude of life in the Long Eddy is incredible, and aesthetically speaking, there are very few places on earth that can match it.

longeddyradarsat

How about science? The Long Eddy is controlled by tides, constrained by eternal physics. As a marine scientist and field biologist who studies marine mammals, a place like the Long Eddy is extremely compelling. The system sets up and dissipates twice a day, everyday – a predictable system so prominent that you can see it from space. Can you think of many places where you are guaranteed to see 200 harbor porpoises, 5 minke whales and 2 fin whales all within a 5 km square box twice a day? In the late summer and fall, this is routine for the Long Eddy. Because it is predictable, and a short ride from the wharf, the Long Eddy is ideal for studies addressing questions of ecosystem organization and progression at fine scales, from tides to top predators. By combining visual observations with advanced telemetry and prey mapping, we can see how tidal energy helps entire food webs assemble and dissipate, and elucidate how predators and prey act and react amidst the tidal energies in the Long Eddy. We know only the basics of how the Long Eddy works, and there is much more to learn.

It’s been years since I’ve been fortunate enough to pass by the time on a flood tide in the Long Eddy, and it feels great to be back. I don’t need it for sustenance, but the scenery and science are a fine tonic.

You never forget your first (…whale)

I swear I looked down the long length of our 25-foot tag pole for what felt like minutes. The delicately positioned DTAG had disappeared from the end of the pole and the fin whale we had been chasing was descending below the water’s surface. Turning slowing, I holler back to the expectant eyes of the others on the boats and yell “Tag on, Garth.” I barely heard Dave, our intrepid PI and tag boat driver, yell back “Tag on, Wayne.”

[photo size=’large’ title=’Tag on!’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/tagon.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/tagon.jpg[/photo]

They say you will never forget your first whale. But I swear I hardly remembered it. In the end, it was all a blur. But what I know was that I laid the DTAG squarely and firmly on the fin whale’s dorsal ridge, right in front of the dorsal fin. The team now had its second deployment of the DTAG onto a fin whale of the season. And, personally, it was exhilarating and instinctual.

[photo size=’large’ title=’Tag on fin whale’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/taggagetwo.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/taggagetwo.jpg[/photo]

Stepping back, the day had been fantastic thus far. Visually, the Long Eddy—the oceanographic feature off the northern end of Isle Gran Manan that we are studying—was going off: gulls and shearwaters bickering back and forth over easy forage; northern gannets elegantly dive-bombing prey from the shallow depths; harbor porpoises playing with the boats as if they were dolphins on a bow wave. Our prey mapping team was radioing in good news at every turn. To top it all, there were a few individual fin whales we had sighted throughout the study area. Time to lay the tag on.

[photo size=’medium’ align=’right’ title=’Tag – good placement’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/taggage.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/taggage.jpg[/photo]

There had already been a few hours of delicate dancing: the whale would surface, we would chase, the whale would descend, and we would wait for another surfacing. The courtship had grown old. But from the moment Dave gunned the engines, I knew we must make this one different. The animal was on opposite side of a seabird aggregation foraging on a shallow prey layer—the bobbing birds already too full of krill and herring. We had already missed one opportunity to tag, we had to make this one different. I spent most of the approach attempting to conjure more tag pole from my hands. The whale was just too far away… until it wasn’t. And that’s when I straight laid my first tag on a whale.

Tag on, Garth.

[photo size=’large’ title=’Happy!’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/jmox.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/jmox.jpg[/photo]

A great day for research?

Today we sailed out to the Long Eddy and were greeted by unnaturally glassy and smooth seas, warm temperatures, and a clear blue sky. Sounds like a great day for research, doesn’t it? Hah! Let’s hear about what went on before we come to conclusions, yeah?

The Balaena, the appropriately-named tagging boat, spent a good chunk of their time around two distinct fin whales, one of which was the same individual tagged yesterday. The DTAG went on the pole and the team poised for a tagging attempt at multiple points throughout the day. However, the whales kept evading the boat and swam particularly fast to avoid being tagged–it was as if they knew we were coming! The whales certainly made our job hard as we could never predict where they would be next time we saw them surface. The boat got real close to the whale twice, but ultimately today was a no-go–the tag boat came back in just after high tide and called it a day. Some good news though: the tag boat saw their first Atlantic puffins today! They were quite cute and surprisingly awkward while in the water.

[photo size=’large’ title=’No tag today’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/finnotag.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/finnotag.jpg[/photo]

On the prey-mapping boat, the Phocoena, we took advantage of the calm seas and conducted two great line transects that had no electrical noise and showed a thick krill layer throughout. However, our luck quickly ran out as the adaptor to the computer charger failed to work, and the noise came back soon after. We pulled back to the harbour prematurely and did some more troubleshooting by doing every single combination possible with the wires, battery chargers, inverters, and more electronic stuff I don’t really know the name of. Couple of revelations today: the charger to the laptop cannot be anywhere close to any of the echosounder equipment and the batteries! What that means is that we have to run the echosounder with the laptop on battery power, because the noise is inherently linked with the charger. Well, as they say, the better the quality of data collected, the better the dissertation will be! So, we’ll try testing the limits of the computer’s battery life tomorrow and see what happens.

Overall, yet another learning experience, but I think we all benefited from it in some way or another! Nothing like a good reality check to get you back on track, right?

[photo size=’large’ title=’Prey Team!’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/preyteamyah.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/09/preyteamyah.jpg[/photo]

Tag On!

[photo size=’medium’ title=’We tagged this whale!’ align=’right’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/taggedfin_ASF.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/taggedfin_ASF.jpg[/photo]After about 10 yrs or so from when we first thought about doing it, today we put out a DTAG on a fin whale in the Long Eddy. It’s been a long time coming, and we are really happy to have cracked that nut.

Today was a great day. The winds were calm, the sky blue and there were critters everywhere. Ari was proud to note that on this fine day we encountered the four main species of cetaceans in the Bay of Fundy – fin whales, minke whales, harbor porpoises and right whales. Yup we hit all the highlights. It wasn’t just a great day for us – the GMWSRS basking shark team (lead by Andrew “Sparky” Westgate) got a tag out as well, and the ad-hoc bird team (led by Rob Ronconi) successfully worked up a number of birds. Simply put, today was awesomesauce.

[photo size=’large’ title=’Porpoise!’ align=’center’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/PorpoiseLE_ASF.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/PorpoiseLE_ASF.jpg[/photo]

Our team started off with right whales on the way to the Long Eddy. We came across a mother-calf pair about 1 mile off the Swallowtail lighthouse, stopped to take a few ID shots and then called in the sighting to the New England Aquarium researchers (relayed by the GMWSRS – thanks Rob!). This seemed like a good omen. After leaving the right whales behind we encountered several minke whales and hundreds of harbor porpoises as we entered the Long Eddy, but the fin whales remained elusive. The prey mapping team got a great start and mapped out the entire eddy as it formed, collecting a ton of echo sounder data.

We had several sightings of one fin whale (Getz again) early in the flood tide, but the animal was moving large distances during each dive. Finally, as we moved past mid-flood  in the Long Eddy another fin whale joined the system and we moved in to strike. After several surfacings we finally found ourselves in the right spot for a tag attempt. We approached slowly and the whale evaded us. Shortly after however we caught the whale on it’s last breath before a dive and Ari popped on the tag about halfway between dorsal fin and blowhole, about 6 inches down on the right side of the animal’s back. Perfect placement – high up so that we got several beeps from the tag on each surfacing. We followed the animal for about two hours and as the flood tide finished up the tag popped off the animal near Fish Head.

Truth be told, it was a frustrating track because the animal moved great distances (making prey mapping around the whale difficult) and the tag seemed to have slipped down the side of the whale after the first hour, reducing the range at which we would get beeps from it on the receiver. The tag was shed by the whale after two hours – we quickly recovered it and then ran for home to get ready for tomorrow – the weather looks good and we are hoping for a replay. Stay tuned!

[photo size=’large’ title=’Our tagged whale’ align=’center’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/taggedfin_TAGline.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/taggedfin_TAGline.jpg[/photo]

Post-Irene. Back on the water…

The field team was able to get back out on the water today after the post-tropical storm formerly known as Hurricane Irene blew threw eastern Canada.  Amazingly, the seas laid down from storm conditions surprisingly quickly and we had beautiful at-sea conditions for sighting and tagging whales as well as mapping the patches of prey structured by the Long Eddy.  The water was calm with slight swell, the sun was out and brightening the few clouds, and the Long Eddy was clearly visible in the surface water as seabirds, harbor porpoises, and minke and fin whales position to feed.

Out on the water, we quickly identified the individual spotted on other days (fin whale Getz) and began to prepare tagging efforts.  The DTAG (the instrument we’re using to study the whale’s movement in relation to its prey and surrounding environment) was positioned into the tagging pole for the first time this field season and we began making close passes at the whale in attempts to land a tag on its back.  Unfortunately we never could predict the whale’s next surfacing in order to position the boat close enough to deploy our tag.  Given some boat troubles due to a broken bilge pump, we decided to head into harbor after the Long Eddy subsided at high tide and complete these necessary boat repairs.

The team mapping prey in our partner vessel, the Phocoena, saw similar ups and downs throughout the day.  The first full echosounder transect recording prey density across the Long Eddy and surrounding waters was successfully completed.  Some of the chatter on the boats was that the shear line where prey density drastically drops off was clearly visible in the preprocessed data!  However, the team spent the second half of the day troubleshooting a few different issues, including reorienting the towfish’s swim trajectory and retooling one of the echosounders to remove distracting and undesirable noise in the data.

All in all, a strong day of trials that tested both teams.  In the end, we’ve come out top and retooled ourselves to be even better tomorrow.

[photo size=’large’ title=’Prey mapping below the Bishop link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/TheBishop.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/TheBishop.jpg[/photo]

The shakedown

We’re up here in the Bay of Fundy to collect data for my dissertation research project. My advisor, Dave Johnston, conducted his dissertation research in the same location 10 or so years ago and we are following up on his work taking advantage of new technology that has become available to us since then. We’re using DTAGs (Digital Acoustic Recording tags) that will attach to the back of fin whales using suction cups. These tags will stay on the whale for a few hours and then will detach and we will recover them and download the data. They record fine scale whale movements like pitch, roll, orientation, and acceleration. We also have another boat that will be using a scientific echosounder that sends high frequency sound into the water column and records backscattered sound that we presume is prey for the whales. We will link whale fine scale movements with presumed prey availability during a flood tide near the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.

The Bay of Fundy has some of the most extreme tides in the world, and as the water floods the bay during an incoming tide; it creates a predictable food source for foraging top predators at the north end of Grand Manan Island (we call this area the Long Eddy). We hope to better understand how whales exploit these regular aggregations of prey.

It was a very long three day drive and ferry ride to get from Beaufort, North Carolina to Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. Luckily we only had to tow a boat up the last day of our trip since we had very nice friends storing it for us in Massachusetts. Our first day was spent getting situated and waiting for the arrival of our fearless leader, Dave Johnston, who was delayed in his arrival due to many flight issues associated with hurricane Irene. He made it up here late Friday night, and we got out on the water early Saturday morning to test out our gear (aka shakedown cruise). The image below is some echo sounder output of a bottom layer of prey we found close to one whale as it exited the Long Eddy moving south.

[photo size=’large’ title=’Bottom layer near Getz as he exited the Long Eddy’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/echosounder-image.png’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/echosounder-image.png[/photo]

The tagging boat got some good looks at a few fin whales and even saw one lunge feed at the surface. They took some photos to add to our photo ID database, and we have already been able to match one whale, Getz (see photo), who was here 10 plus years ago when Dave was collecting data for his dissertation. It appears that at least one whale keeps coming back to Grand Manan, much like the researchers that study them. Both just seem not to be able to get enough of this place. It’s my first time here, but it certainly does seem like a special place.

[photo size=’medium’ align=’right’ title=’Getz in the Long Eddy’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/NotchFin.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/NotchFin.jpg[/photo]

So it’s been a slow start for us. Hurricane Irene brought us some wind and rain the past few days so we haven’t been able to get out on the water since our “shakedown” cruise. The good news is that this has given me time to familiarize myself with some software and do some more planning that I wasn’t able to get done before we left. The bad news is that we are losing valuable time from the 14 days we have here to collect data. More good news is that the weather is looking good for tomorrow and the tides are cooperating. Flood tides are in the morning. Keep your fingers crossed for us for a good weather week with lots of whales. Stay tuned….

In the Long Eddy…

We’ve embarked on our field season in the Bay of Fundy, seeking to tag fin whales as they exploit prey aggregations in an island wake system on the northern tip of Grand Manan Island.
[photo size=’medium’ align=’left’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/FinLongEddy.jpg’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2011/08/FinLongEddy.jpg[/photo] We’re only just getting started, and have had to hunker down for a day and a half for hurricane Irene-related weather. We did get one shakedown day to setup and test equipment, during which we also accomplished a quick recon of the Long Eddy and the critters that use it. The shakedown went well, with all equipment performing perfectly and we also collected some Photo-ID data on fin whales foraging in the feature. A good start!

We’ll have more updates soon!

Return to the Long Eddy!

Great news!  The National Geographic Society is going to fund a short field season studying the foraging ecology of fin whales in the Long Eddy, an island wake system in the Bay of Fundy. This is a great opportunity for us to get back to Fundy.

This island wake system supports a variety of top predators (whales, porpoises and seabirds) and is highly predictable in time and space, making it – in many ways – an ideal natural laboratory for studying the foraging ecology of marine mammals. We hope to study how fin whales exploit this features during foraging using digital recording tags (drags) and a suitep of “ecosystem” observations made concurrently to provide the environmental context for observed behaviors. This will include measures of prey fields observed with active acoustics, ocean currents obtained by ADCP, and water properties assessed through CTD casts.

[photo size=’medium’ align=’right’ link=’http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2010/11/longeddyradarsat.png’ icon=’zoom’ lightbox=’image’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2010/11/longeddyradarsat.png[/photo]

Island or headland wake systems are ubiquitous in coastal oceans, found pretty much wherever water flows past an obstruction. Because these systems are so common, understanding how marine predators such as fin whales use the Long Eddy can help us interpret patterns in their distribution and movements in other coastal regions. One of my key interests in this project is a deeper assessment of the utility of using studies that combine fine-scale oceanography with the movements and behaviors of top predators to delineate the extents of marine protected areas.

It also means that we will get the opportunity to further develop our nascent photo ID catalog of fin whales around Grand Manan Island. It should be interesting to see if the same whales we studied there almost a decade ago still use the feature as a foraging spot.

Can’t wait to get started!