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AMAPPS Leg 2 Begins: An Exceptional Week for Seabirds and Marine Mammal Sightings

August 23, 2021

We began the month-long Leg 2 of the 2021 AMAPPS abundance survey July 27. Lots of whale sounds captured, and rare seabirds seen.

Two researchers on the deck of a research ship at sea wearing summer clothing, hard hats, and cloth masks to protect against COVID-19 transmission. They are easing an underwater sound recorder attached to a cable over the side and into the water. It is daylight and the weather is calm.

After a week of sheltering-in-place, we left Newport, Rhode Island on Leg 2 of the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) abundance survey on July 27. Due to problems with one of the ship’s compasses, we were at anchor off Newport for a couple of days waiting for a new unit. After it was delivered by a small boat, the competent crew of the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow successfully installed the new unit (Thank you!).

We began searching during the day for marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds on the shelf slope between the 100- and 2,000-meter depth contour. We used high-powered binoculars (the “Big Eyes”), the unaided eye, and passive acoustic monitoring. Between July 30 and Aug 3, we surveyed 377 nautical miles of trackline.

A chart with longitude and latitude displayed for the sighting area. Colored dots represent species seen at different depths along the edge of the continental shelf in the Gulf of Maine.
This chart shows where we saw and heard animals on August 3, 2021. The sightings are the colored dots between the 100 and 2000 meter depth isobaths, represented by the black lines. Isobaths are drawn on the chart by connecting all points having the same depth below the ocean’s surface.

The “Big Eye” team detected more than 220 groups of whales and dolphins that consisted of about 1,500 individuals. The shelf-break slope waters east of Cape Cod have many more whales, dolphins, and sea birds than the waters west of Cape Cod. In fact, on August 3, in waters right around the Hague Line around Georges and Corsair Canyons, we saw about 110 groups of some 1,000 animals in 111 nautical miles. That’s an average of nine animals per nautical mile. In comparison, on Leg 1 from June 16 to July 11, we saw about 350 groups of some 3,500 animals in 1,260 nautical miles. That’s an average of just 2.7 animals per nautical mile.

Passive Acoustic Team

The acousticians had several long days of continuous acoustic recordings. The array deployments and retrievals were smooth. The crew on the Henry Bigelow helped us keep our array in the water as much as possible to maximize our recording effort. We had several single-species encounters—mostly for Risso's dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, and common dolphin. This gave us excellent recordings to use back in the lab to better understand each species' vocalizations. We are also delighted that we identified the unique characteristics of beaked whale vocalizations in real time.

Two researchers on the deck of a research ship at sea wearing summer clothing, hard hats, and cloth masks to protect against COVID-19 transmission. They are easing an underwater sound recorder attached to a cable over the side and into the water. It is daylight and the weather is calm.
Acoustician Samara Haver and survey technician Justin Desilva deploy the acoustic array on AMAPPS 2021 Leg 2. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jennifer Wallace-Turek

Seabird Team

Barolo searwater skimming the water surface.
Barolo shearwater. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Tom Johnson

It was an exceptional week for the seabird team. We found 12 species on August 1—the highest daily diversity for AMAPPS 2021. We also had a single day count of 33 white-faced storm-petrels on August 3, a new continental high record. This species nests on islands in the Eastern Atlantic and migrates westward during the summer months. A Barolo shearwater, another rare visitor from the Eastern Atlantic, rattled our senses when it appeared on August 1. Much of what is known about its occurrence in the Northwest Atlantic is derived from data collected on AMAPPS cruises and on our science center’s Ecosystem Monitoring surveys.

Oceanography Team

Image
A chain of small jelly-like, transparent oval animals on a black background.
A chain of Thalia democratica, a small salp in an image captured by the video plankton recorder. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Our nightwatch conducted a conductivity, temperature, and depth transect across Oceanographer Canyon. They enjoyed an evening of frequent lightning and down-pouring rain that was so heavy that 4–5 inches of water accumulated on the hydro deck. 

On the nightwatch during August 3-4, the team completed a second watch of video plankton recorder sampling with a tow across Corsair Canyon. The recorder captured this image,  a chain of Thalia democratica, which is a small salp.

Large numbers of this species were captured in the plankton nets. The chains break apart into individual animals in the nets. The highlight of the evening of August 3 was a swarm of hundreds of 4 to 6 centimeter jellyfish surrounding the ship as the VPR was being deployed.

Debra Palka

Chief Scientist

Leg 2 AMAPPS Abundance Survey July 27 – Aug 23, 2021

Aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

 

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Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on August 27, 2021