We wrapped up this season’s satellite tagging project with Daniel Webster and Cascadia Research Collective with an incredibly successful day on the water last Tuesday. Our project is focused on the behavior of several deep-diving odontocete species off Cape Hatteras, including short-finned pilot whales, Risso’s dolphins and bottlenose dolphins.
But there is one creature off the coast of North Carolina that we know very little about and has proved to be very challenging to work with. Most days we head offshore, we are hoping to work with Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris). This is a deep-diving odontocete that can spend well over an hour below the surface searching for and foraging on squid at depths exceeding 2,000 m (yes, that’s holding your breath while diving for 2 kilometers and then returning another 2 km to surface for the runners among you). They surface only occasionally and for no more than for a few minutes at a time. This unique dive behavior makes it very difficult for us to approach the animals to deploy tags, and is one reason why scientists know very little about this species.
There is some predictability to their dive patterns, however, that allows us to anticipate when and where they are going to surface. Our efforts paid off last week after an entire summer searching for beaked whales and learning their behaviors off Cape Hatteras. On our last day of the satellite tagging project, 16 September, we located and tracked a group of 5-6 Cuvier’s beaked whales long enough to deploy our last two satellite tags, one location and depth-transmitting tag (Mk-10) and one location-only tag (SPOT). We anticipate that the tags will track the movements and dive patterns of these two individuals for 30-45 days. You can track the animals on https://www.movebank.org.
We’ll be headed back out off Cape Hatteras in a couple of weeks with Ph.D. student Joy Stanistreet to deploy five Marine Acoustic Recording Units (MARUs or pop-up buoys) to record North Atlantic right whale (Eubaleana glacialis) migratory movements. We also hope to deploy more DTags on short-finned pilot whales to coincide with seismic surveys being conducted in the area, so check back …