On the 12th of July, I packed my bag again and headed to the airport ready t0 fly t0 Newfoundland, Canada. In Newfoundland I was joining a 40 ft sailing research vessel called Balaena and we were  headed out to spend 3 weeks researching whales in the North Atlantic. Was is excited? Errrrm, yes.

Joining a new boat/new crew is a little daunting, as you are about to spend the best part of a month with a small group of people that you have never met before, have had minimal contact with, in a very confined space with zero contact with the outside world. On this trip there were 5 of us in total, including myself and I have to say that I couldn’t have been luckier. I think I probably would have enjoyed this trip even if the other 4 crew members had the collective personalities of Alan Partridge, the Grinch and a Kardashian, because I just love being out at sea, spending time in the company of sea birds and cetaceans, with salty winds, big seas and broad horizons, but I have to say that with this trip, the rest of the crew were the cherry on top, so if any of you are reading this, shout out, you are awesome.

First of all, the boat was so beautiful and so well set up. She was actually one of the best set up yachts that I have ever been on, and by that I mean that she is very simply and cleverly laid out, to create a very effective living and working environment.

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After stocking the boat with food for the trip (yes, you do get judged in the super market for buying all of the crisps and having 5 full trolleys), we headed out at 3:45 am, after a storm had passed. As I had been up to slip lines and help us leave port, I went back to bed for a nap around 11:00 am, only to be woken up shortly after to the words “Errrrm, I’m not sure if you are interested, but there are some sei whales up here. And some humpback”. Was I interested? Why yes I was. Sidenote, I love how at the start of sailing trips people are really shy and awkward about waking people up. By the end, not so much.

Sei Wales

Sei Whales

Sei Wales

Sei Whales

Obviously, I knew that on a whale research trip we would see whales, and hear them on the 100m hydrophone that we were towing behind the boat. What came as a surprise was just how many whales we would see. In total, we saw 9 different species of whale, 3 species of dolphin, 1 species of porpoise and numerous species of sea birds. I will be doing individual post with pictures and info on all of the cetacean species that we encountered, so stay tuned for that.

For this trip, we sailed north from the coast of Newfoundland, about 250 miles offshore along the 1000m contour line. We were looking for northern bottlenose whales, as Laura Feyrer  is studying them for her PhD. The 1000m contour off the coast of Newfoundland is considered  a suitable habitat for the bottlenose whales, so whilst on this transect, we would listen every 15 minutes in the hydrophone, which was constantly recording, to see if there were any bottlenose whales around. Unfortunatley, we didn’t manage to catch up with them at this stage of the  trip, even though we saw a plethora of other wildlife. We then sailed down the west coast of Newfoundland and headed to the gully marine protected area off Nova Scotia, where the northern bottlenose are known to be in residence. We also collected photo ID of many of the species sited, but particularly the bottlenose whales. Laura was also charged with collecting biopsy samples from the bottlenose, which involved shooting them with a dart to collect a small sample of skin and blubber to be sent back to the lab for analysis. (You need a research permit to collect biopsy samples and they are collected in the least invasive way possible i.e you cannot collect a sample when a calf is present). I have to say, being the first to arrive on the boat, I was a little alarmed by the fact that there were 2 crossbows tucked up in the forepeak.

 

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Prof. Hal Whitehead, giving me a lesson on the difference in identification between a sei and fin whale from his preferred teaching spot

Helming the boat

Helming the boat

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Sails set wing on wing

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Me up the mast

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View from the top

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Boat yoga. Boga?

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Stormy seas

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Orca

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Pilot whales

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Northern bottlenose whales

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who made this trip possible for me, blessed is an overused word, but that is what I am, truly blessed.

More to come…