As Dr. John Ford, head of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Cetacean Research Program (DFO CRP), and fellow researcher Graeme Ellis stepped aboard the following morning, we were hoping for a miracle. The weather was cooperating – there was a light northwest wind, seas were calming and smoothing out, swell was knocked down a touch, and things were only getting better. An overcast sky cut out severe glare. If we didn’t find the whale again today, we couldn’t blame the conditions.
Shortly after we approached the area where we had seen the whale the previous day (not two miles from where we left it), there was a V-shaped blow. We had managed, somehow, to find the whale for a third time! I was incredibly relieved – I really wanted John and Graeme to have the chance to see this whale after having dedicated their careers over the past several decades to studying whales on this coast. And the sighting also gave us a chance to get a biopsy sample, the final piece to the data puzzle.
After spending a half hour photographing and videotaping the whale feeding, we deployed the zodiac in an attempt to secure a biopsy sample. After five attempts and four hours, we finally acquired a skin sample. We dropped the hydrophone for one last long listen, hoping it would vocalize. No such luck. Having acquired all the samples and data that we could, we decided to end the day. After three successful encounters, feeling humbled and privileged for this incredibly rare opportunity, we left the whale for the final time.
James Pilkington, John Ford, and Graeme Ellis would like to sincerely thank and acknowledge Captain Gary Koup and the amazing crew of the Arrow Post – Gary, Danielle, Glen, Mark, and Adrienne – for all their hard work and enthusiasm. They did everything they could to make sure we were able to make the best of this rare and important encounter. And congratulations to Gary Koup, this being his final trip before retirement; what a trip to end on!
Guest blog post by James Pilkington, DFO Cetacean Research Program (CRP)