We are starting our third morning of SOCAL-12, just pulling away from Catalina Island. It’s cool and breezy out here with a wispy mist blowing across this dusty, steep island.
The weather has been marginal to poor offshore for the kind of work we are doing and despite our aspirations to work well offshore, the wind gods have been unwilling. Upon leaving Santa Barbara, we headed directly toward the Navy’s hydrophone range west of San Clemente Island the first day. After staging at San Nicholas Island we worked down there in search of beaked whales. But despite the awesome ability to hear animals over this large area vectoring us in, the surface conditions just weren’t conducive to finding and tagging whales. Consequently, we moved into somewhat more sheltered areas around deeper water and shifted our species focus somewhat to other priority species.
By listening and looking we found an old friend – Mango the sperm whale. Two years ago we found this robust, adult male sperm whale and tagged him and conducted controlled exposure experiments (CEEs) twice and followed his course with a satellite tracking tag for weeks afterwards. He has been seen off of southern California repeatedly for nearly two decades and we heard and then saw him again two days ago and again yesterday. While we didn’t include him in our CEEs this year again, it was good to see him again. He is an impressive 50+ foot animal and some of our new crew hadn’t seen a sperm whale before. We have seen another sperm whale in the vicinity as well and that may come into the picture for today.
We did manage to get a tag on and a CEE conducted on one of our focal species – Rissos dolphins. We found workable relatively deep water conditions near Santa Barbara Island and managed to get a tag attached on these sometimes elusive animals (see above – photo courtesy C. Kyburg taken under NMFS permit #14534-2). It was a successful CEE and we were able to use some new listening gear as part of it as well. We also managed to get a new version of the suction cup tags attached to a bottlenose dolphin as well but it detached before we could conduct an experiment.
Overall, a fair start with some priority species detected and included in our efforts but we are hoping the weather forecasts are either wrong or change to let us work further offshore. Judging from the rocking and rolling vessel I am typing this on at the moment it seems the weather forecasts are right for today. We will keep you posted as much as possible when we can get things online from out here.