Tuesday was my best trip out on the boat yet and I think it will be very hard to top. It was a beautiful warm morning and immediately after launching we came upon a large group of bottlenose dolphins and worked with them for photo-ID and acoustics for about an hour. Then we made our way out to the point and got a report of humpback whales out at sea. We went to go check it out and found two humpback whales with a few tour boats. The whales seemed very relaxed and were moving slow and gracefully through the area. It was actually very simple to keep track of them because they were only traveling at about 2 knots and stayed on the same course. I kept track of their breathing rate so we knew about every 4-5 minutes they would be resurfacing. We got great photo ID pictures of their dorsal fins (“Flatty” and “Hook” were how we distinguished the two animals) and one decent shot of a fluke. We stayed with the whales for a while and they soon became curious about our boat and the surrounding tour boats. They would surface in front of the tour boats repeatedly, as if to check them out and have their picture taken by the tourists. They even spy hopped a few times, which was really cool. You could see all the barnacles surrounding their mouth. Then they came to visit our boat. They swam directly in front of us. We could see them just under the water and they surfaced only 1-2 meters from our boat. It was incredible and probably only lasted about 20 seconds, but it is 20 seconds of my life I will never forget. To have the opportunity to see such graceful and giant creatures, whom I’ve loved and dreamed of studying my entire life swim within a few arm lengths from me was an experience of a lifetime.
Once the tour boats left, we stayed with the whales to collect biopsy samples. Simon did the shooting with the biopsy crossbow, while wearing a GoPro on his head (kind of like a nerdy Rambo, still very cool though).), and we got great samples from both animals. The animals had little to no reaction to the biopsy dart, which we were happy about because they were such friendly whales and we really didn’t want to make them upset. After our work was done, I drove the boat home for the first time. It was simple because the water was calm, thankfully! Overall the day was a phenomenal experience and one I hope all future interns with have the opportunity to experience as well.