This spring, as the migration of the endangered North Atlantic right whale gets underway, a group of experts – scientists, conservationists, and historians – will follow along aboard a tall ship ocean research vessel.
The project is called SEA’s Sailing Symposium on North Atlantic Right Whales. Its goal is to provide a forum for stakeholders of varied disciplines to talk about their research, raise awareness, and share ideas aimed at protecting the right whales. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) estimates the population of North Atlantic right whales at fewer than 350. Threats include entanglement, ship strikes, and climate change.
The voyage, aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, the flagship of Sea Education Association (SEA) of Woods Hole, departs Charleston, South Carolina, on April 23. This voyage, the first of two legs, ends in New York City. The voyage then continues to Woods Hole after sailing through Cape Cod Bay, an important feeding ground for the right whale.
Collaborators on the voyage include experts from NOAA, the New England Aquarium, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Center for Coastal Studies, and the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Craig Marin, Associate Professor of Marine Environmental History at SEA, is the symposium’s organizer.
“Our invited experts agreed to participate because it’s an opportunity to publicize the urgent need for conservation. It’s also a unique opportunity for different organizations and stakeholders to come together to share information and ideas,” said Marin.
The first leg of the voyage will follow the right whale migration track. Though it’s late in the season, Marin said he’s hopeful that they will see – or hear – right and or humpback whales. Members of the Passive Acoustic Research Group from NOAA’s New England Fisheries Science Center will assist in the deployment of a hydrophone at least once a day.
In addition, SEA scientists will use Neuston tows to measure plankton biodiversity and biomass in order to get a better sense of what the right whales feed on during their migration. Samples will be dried and stored for the Center for Coastal Studies where they will be compared to samples collected off Cape Cod.
The second leg sails outside Cape Cod into Cape Cod Bay where right whales should be congregating. Research similar to that done on the first leg will continue, and discussion will also focus on the impact of green energy on whale conservation as the ship sails through the Block Island Wind Farm.
Throughout, members of the expedition will blog daily, and make presentations and have discussions about their work. These presentations will be videoed and shared on the SEA website.
“The voyage also showcases the interdisciplinary approach that SEA takes for our student programs. We bring together experts from multiple disciplines to better understand the ocean,” said Marin.
More details will be posted on the SEA website and on social media as the Symposium at Sea gets underway.