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Marine Species Monitoring

Sowerby's beaked whales encountered at Norfolk Canyon

Posted on January 7, 2019

Researchers from HDR encountered a group of seven Sowerby’s beaked whales in the Norfolk Canyon area on 19 December 2018 during a survey for the Mid-Atlantic Offshore Cetacean Study. The group was initially observed at a depth of approximately 850m and tracked through multiple deep dive sequences across a variety of depths out to 1200m depth. The group was made up of two very young juveniles or older calves along with five adult-sized whales. The team was successful in staying with the group during their 15-30 minute dive cycles for nearly three hours collecting photos and drone footage, but they remained just out of reach for satellite-tag deployments. During the encounter, HDR researchers successfully launched a drone to assess group composition, estimate lengths, and evaluate body condition.

This project has been underway for over two years and this is only the second observation of Sowerby's beaked whales so far. The first sighting of three individuals in September 2018 resulted in the first ever satellite-linked tag to be deployed on a Sowerby’s beaked whale. The tag transmitted data for two weeks and captured over 50 suspected foraging dives up to 1000m deep.

Drone footage of Sowerby's beaked whales (Mesoplodon bidens) in the Norfolk Canyon study area (collected under NMFS Permit 16239 issued to Dan Engelhaupt).