Parley SnotBot Expedition 10: Dominican Republic!

By: Ann Cortissoz

Dear Friends,

Here we go again! The Parley SnotBot team is off on expedition, we’re taking along some other ‘Bots and will be having some long distance chats!

This time we’re in the Dominican Republic (DR), visiting the breeding and calving grounds of the North West Atlantic humpback whales (above). I was first here in the 1990s aboard the R/V Siben and then the R/V Odyssey, so it is great to be back. This location and this group of whales is very special to us, because while the humpbacks mate and give birth in the waters off the DR, some of them migrate up the East Coast of the U.S. to spend their summers feeding on Stellwagen Banks, right off the coast from our headquarters in Gloucester, Mass. (below)

During Expedition 9 we took the Parley SnotBot out to study and collect Exhaled Breath Condensate (EBC, or snot) samples from the Gloucester population of humpbacks and we’re very excited to bring all of our skills and tools to bear to add what knowledge we can about these whales in their winter grounds.

As with every Parley SnotBot expedition, this one started out with us at the airport with a ridiculous number of bags (total of 20 bags with 2 carry on’s each ☹). We flew Boston to Miami, Miami to Santo Domingo, where we picked up a rental mini van. We then drove for almost 3 hours to our Airbnb accommodation  in Samaná.

Six people and twenty bags was a bit of a squeeze in the mini van. So when we got to Samaná, Chris and I removed some of the chairs from the mini-van to make it a bit more SnotBot friendly.

In addition to SnotBot, we are putting energy into another member of the Drones For Whale Research family while we are in the DR, EarBot. EarBot was first seen in Alaska in 2016 and 2017 (below).

While our other drone work has kept us busy, our robotics manager Chris Zadra has given EarBot some much needed TLC over the last few months and we are excited to be putting EarBot back to work to record humpback whale songs in the DR.  As well as doing some behavioral studies and working with regional scientists monitoring the whale watch industry here we will also be doing photogrammetry work (measuring the size of whale with a drone) using our LIDAR array (below) mounted on one of our Inspire 2 drones.

We have a bigger team here this year as we continue to try to improve Parley SnotBot and our Drones for Whale Research program. The team from past expeditions are Iain Kerr, Andy Rogan, Christian Miller, and  Chris Zadra. Now we have Ocean Alliance staff member Britta Akerley helping Andy with the science and data and Angie Sremba from Dr. Scott Baker’s lab at Oregon State University.  Angie has been doing most of the DNA analysis of our snot samples, so we thought it important for her to see the collection process. Next week Ainsley Smith from Gloucester will be joining us to be trained on our data protocols and management. As if this was not enough, we will be joined by Germany’s largest TV network, ZDF, to shoot a documentary short.

We did get out on the water today but it was blowing close to 20 knots which like Gabon makes the work more challenging.

To try and beat these trade winds the plan is to be on the boat tomorrow at 6:00 am (before sunrise) and be with the whales as the sun rises—hopefully we will have some spectacular photos and will be able to collect plenty of Snot before the wind picks up (fingers crossed).

Last but not least, I am excited to report that the Parley SnotBot team is  going live! Our good friends at Maritime Gloucester will host an evening with a live discussion from the DR with the Parley SnotBot team along with live and archival footage.  We hope that we can share some of the expedition excitement and let people know what it is like to be working in the field, and answer a few questions …. LIVE. If you live near Gloucester, please come on down and be part of the conversations at Maritime Gloucester on Sunday, March 3. You can register here. Next time we do Expedition Live, we hope to webcast as well, but for this first one we are trying to keep it simple as we can.

So once again we will be keeping busy, that said I am sure we will have some great stories to tell along with Christian Miller’s stunning photos.

As always thanks again to our partners and expedition supporters, Parley.

Onwards Upwards and Fair Winds from the Dominican Republic!

Iain

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