Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sperm Whale Central

We were all very happy today to be back on effort and for much of the day in very calm seas. After a short pit stop at dawn to restock with some supplies we began searching for marine mammals in our new operating area. Shortly thereafter we spotted a mother-calf pair of Cuvier's beaked whales. This was encouraging since the area where we are now has not been systematically surveyed and, despite some anecdotal observations and promising bathymetry (bottom features), we weren't sure what we would find. We subsequently ran across quite a bit of marine life, though not our primary focal species. We came through a cluster of loggerhead sea turtles, found patches of striped dolphins, and heard Risso's dolphins chattering away. But the mammals that would dominate our day were deep-divers like beaked whales.

Our first sperm whale sighting, which was in water about a mile (1.6 km) deep, was followed over the next eight hours by 19 other sightings of other (mainly) individuals or groups. We recorded a total of 26 individual sperm whales sighted. As with our other observations, we could have re-sighted some of the same animals more than once, but since we were moving at 10 knots in one general direction for much of the day to cover a good amount of water in this new area, most of these were probably different animals. We saw several sperm whales breaching and heard them on our acoustic arrays much of the day, but never saw any close enough to the boat for good pictures. It is a promising sign that we are seeing other deep-diving, primarily squid-eating marine mammals (like beaked whales are) and it is also interesting to observe such relatively high densities of sperm whales in this area.

The weather outlook for tomorrow is relatively promising and we are refreshed to be back in water that is more amenable to our objectives than what we left in the Alboran Sea; we hope to locate more beaked whales (and fewer sperm whales). Throughout this project that we have been treated to some fantastic sunrises and sunsets on the Mediterranean Sea, such as this one from yesterday.