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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Operation Calanus - TAG ON!

L-R: Canadian Research Permit for 2011; Rene attaching the timer release belt on tag; Rene with his
20 m carbon fibre pole with tag attached - waiting; Preparing to tag on!
What a day (190811) - we were up at 5am to sort our gear out and load it on the truck. The drive to the dock in Mingan is about 10-15 minutes but then we have to unload and load the equipment on the boat. There's a lot of gear and it all needs to be secured with bungee cords and tape. That process alone takes an hour but once its done - it means we can get straight to work.

We saw many porpoises (another species to add to my life list!) and grey seals and soon came upon a couple of humpbacks. Christian Ramp (MICS) knows the whales by name and even knows their personalities so once we spot a whale its his job to identify it and tell us if that individual will be conducive to being approached by the boat. One of the first ones we met was Dogear, so named because the corner of her fluke is floppy, and Christian told us that she wasn't a social sort. This proved to be quite true as she kept us at arm's distance so we decided to move on....

We found Pythagore (it looks like he has calculations scribbled on his fluke) and he led us to an area where about 8 humpbacks were feeding - opportunity! So we got set and did a few approaches on the whale that until recently was known as 707. In fact, at the naming party last night Rene and I christened him Calanus (he has a copepod drawn on his fluke) so it seemed only right that we tagged him. 

Rene rather expertly reached out with his mighty carbon fibre pole and attached the tag on Calanus - WHOOPEE! After this, it was my task to follow his movements and monitor when he came up to the surface using the VHF system I mentioned in the previous blog. The conditions were good so we were able to hear the whale blowing at the surface and follow it for 1 hour 40 mins before the tag came off. All the while we also had the echosounder running to find out where in the water column the prey patches were and essentially what depths the whales were diving to......the results are exciting as they show us that the whales were diving to the food patches which were at the bottom - 120 m down!!

After all the action - we drove back energised by the success of the day. We got back to dock, unloaded and topped up the fuel. We then headed back to the research centre where we unloaded and washed down the gear, downloaded the data, and prepare the tags for another day at sea. What a day indeed - we look forward to many more!

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