The following are daily logs written by Dr. John Wise. Along with his team, Dr. Wise traveled in and around the Gulf of California in search of whales. Dr. Wise runs The Wise Laboratory of Environmental & Genetic Toxicology. This is part two of the series.
Remarkably, today’s morning whale was sighted and biopsied by 8 am, and it sure looked to be a typical day of our biopsy routine. Eventually, however, it would prove to be quite different day. Mark came to the salon and called for Johnny about 4 o’clock. Yep, sure enough it was our afternoon whale. “Dead ahead” was the call. Except, we didn’t have a couple of evening whales. We had a pod of 25 or so fin whales! We have now biopsied 36 whales total from the four species this trip. All is well with us in the Sea of Cortez. We are at anchor in Bahia Willard. We are right near where the pods of whales is so tomorrow we will start again at dawn.
Right at the crack of dawn, we spotted our first whale and the work was on again
Over the next five or so hours we worked our process and this pod of whales, despite still being worn out from the whales the day before.
For today we managed to collect biopsies from another 8 whales, bringing our total for the leg to 44. Of course, at the same time, we are sad to see this leg end for Johnny and Rachel will have to leave us to get back to school. Rachel has an exam on Monday and Johnny has to complete his Ph.D within a year, so much for him to do.
Days 11 & 12
Day 11 found us in port in San Felipe awaiting James and Sean’s arrival on day 12. Ultimately, the most action of the day might have been watching Mark and Rachel each get henna tattoos on their wrists from a street vendor, that, or watching Rick rent a skiff for a ride to a Sea Shepherd boat tour, only to discover that boat simultaneously was towing an inflatable boat full of tourists all the way there and back! Later, we had dinner with scientists studying the vaquita and beaked whales and had a very nice evening meal.
Morning came, and we met the scientists again for breakfast aboard the Narval, a boat owned by the Museo de Ballenas, and further discussed projects together. About noon, James and Sean arrived, and it was time to say goodbye to Johnny and Rachel, and to welcome Sean on board. Two o’clock came and we were underway again. One of the arrows sampled our 45th whale of this leg. It would be the only whale we saw today.
Occasionally, I am asked which is the most difficult. Ultimately, there is no ‘easy’ whale to biopsy, they each pose their challenges and strategies.
We are doing pretty well at it as we have sampled 51 whales with the 6 we sampled today. All is well with us in the Sea of Cortez. We are at anchor in Puerto Refugio. We are re-energized after a remote island adventure.
Alas, it had to happen sooner or later – a day with no whales. Usually, one has many days without whales because of weather, and, of course, because the whales migrate in and out of the area. Really, we’ve been quite lucky during the first leg because the sea was so calm, and the whales so abundant. Only today, and perhaps for several more, the weather has turned a bit for the worse.
I’m always impressed by fin whales. Made for speed, they have sleek bodies that are mostly gray-brown on top and white on the bottom. It is the second largest animal on the earth after its cousin the blue whale. On this voyage, we have seen a lot of fin whales and today is no different. We biopsied three this morning and have now sampled 54 whales in total, with the vast majority of them fin whales. The wind caught up to us again about lunch time, and we saw no more whales.
Right away, we had our first biopsy of the day. Late in the day, we spotted a large pod of pilot whales! Black whales with prominent, but ‘short’ dorsal fins (compared to their long-finned cousins in the Atlantic), the pod approached the boat. Up and down the whales porpoised through the water towards the boat. They were everywhere. It was a breath of fresh air to be working on whales again after so much windy and whale-free areas. Tomorrow, there is another wind concern so we will see. 60 whales in total with 6 sampled today.
Rocking and rolling with the waves in the afternoon, found us battered and bruised, and only doing two knots and hour in the boat, when normally we do 6-8 easily. At this pace we were getting nowhere fast for our troubles, so Captain Fanch pulled us into a protected cove for the evening to wait out the worst of it. 61 whales in total with 1 sampled today.
Tomorrow, we will arrive in La Paz. Weather reports show it will be consistently bad weather for the weekend so we will stay in port, and I will not write further until we resume on Monday. All told we have 62 whales in total with 1 sampled today.
Weather held us in port for much of days 19 and all of day 20. Battling sun, wind and waves for so many days has worn us out, so we mostly just quietly hung out in the shade. We departed just before dawn today, and in the course of reviewing the plan, learned that we cannot work, but for a few hours tomorrow morning. The Sea Shepherd crew is anxious to get north to Ensenada for their next project, and so, today, was to be our last full day on the water.
I thank Sea Shepherd for hosting us and Captain Fanch, Mike, Carolina, Sheila and Nathan for being such kind and supportive crew. I thank Jorge, Carlos and Andrea for excellent collaboration and teamwork in collecting the samples. I thank the Wise Lab team: Johnny, Rick, Mark, Rachel, Sean, and James for their hard work and support in collecting the samples, sending the emails, posting on the website, etc. This work is not easy and it helps to have such dedicated people. Finally, I thank our people at home that take care of everything in our normal lives while we are away out here. I hope you have enjoyed following along. I know I have enjoyed telling you our story. We always need help funding our work, so please consider a tax-deductible donation of any amount, which you can make on our website: https://www.oceanfdn.org/donate/wise-laboratory-field-research-program. We have 63 whales from here to analyze.
To read Dr. Wise’s full logs or to read about more of his work, please visit The Wise Laboratory Website.