Notes From the Field is a series of updates from Antioch College faculty members about the travel and research they’ve conducted.
Whale Research in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada
Assistant Professor Brian Kot continued his long-term whale research during July and August of 2019 in the western North Atlantic Ocean. He worked at one of his regular field sites within the Gulf of St. Lawrence in eastern Canada and continued his collaborative research with marine scientists at the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (www.rorqual.com), a nonprofit organization. His objectives this season were to resume annual data collection on minke whales in the study area, write a new research paper, help operate the research station and train interns, and develop future projects with colleagues.
In between days with inclement weather, rough seas, and thick fog, Brian and his team used a rigid-hulled inflatable boat to search for minke whales in the region. Photographs, behavior ecology data, and skin biopsies were collected from individuals to contribute new information toward existing work on minke whale population dynamics, feeding ecology, and conservation. About 10 minkes were encountered during each day of effort, interspersed with opportunistic work with other species including humpback whales, fin whales, right whales, harbor porpoises, gray seals, basking sharks, and various seabirds. Shoreline lunches within the archipelago provided the team with opportunities to observe seabird rookeries, island wildflowers, and geological formations unique to the islands.
An independent project using drone technology to comparatively assess the health of different whale species in the Gulf provided Brian with an opportunity to develop a new project. Acquisition of this aerial footage will allow researchers at the station to study whale body conditions and scarring rates (e.g., rope entanglements), while allowing Brian to address specific questions about whale behavior and physiology (e.g., locomotion).
After finishing his field season and submitting a paper for publication, Brian then traveled to Ottawa, Ontario, to attend the 10th International Congress of Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry in early August. He then continued to Toronto, Ontario, to meet with colleagues at the Royal Ontario Museum about a future research project and to help arrange a donation of preserved specimens to the Antioch College Zoology Collection. Upon arrival, graduate students greeted Brian with some unique whale bone deformities…and the skin of a 16-foot reticulated python in preparation for display! After multiple productive meetings, including an update about the museum’s global blue whale genetics project, he continued his drive across the border and back to Ohio.