A Salute to Our Mighty Research Vessel: Nereid

By Philip Hamilton on Wednesday, September 09, 2020

See caption below

Over the past 40 years, the beautiful and dependable research vessel Nereid has become much more than a means of transportation; she has become a beloved member of our research team. The Nereid, a Dyer 29, was built in 1979 at the Dyer Boat Yard in Warren, Rhode Island. Less than two years later, a kind benefactor donated her to our right whale project. Our team has since recorded 14,000 photographed sightings of the endangered right whale from her decks!

She is relatively small (29 feet), given the distance we travel from port (40-plus miles per voyage), but she is heavy and seaworthy and very well suited for the challenging sea states that the dramatic Bay of Fundy tidal range can lead to. In fact, we have managed some very rough seas together—like the time two right whales were caught in a fishing weir on the west side of Grand Manan Island. The seas were too rough for others to respond, but we knew the Nereid could make the journey, so off went the Nereid and her intrepid crew. Because the waves were steep and close together as the wind was against the tide, we had to motor more slowly through these large seas. By the time we arrived, the whales had escaped, but the event remained a memorable one.


Rowing a dinghy out to the Nereid on a foggy morning, circa 1980s.
three people and a dog on a small boat
Why did we stop bringing a dog onboard?!
Photographing a right whale from the Nereid.

Throughout the decades, we’ve dealt with a wide array of breakdowns and many of us have become makeshift diesel mechanics, which has proved challenging and satisfying in equal measure. We’ve managed such challenges as hull damage after she hit a ledge off Brier Island, the loss of our propeller due to a bent shaft, broken steering cables, and a cracked turbo charger that caused the cabin to fill up with thick black smoke some 25 miles from port. We’ve learned the process of how to bleed fuel lines and restart the engine after it gets air locked (air can get sucked into the engine if the fuel tanks get low in heavy seas; air in the fuel lines causes a diesel engine to stall). So it’s fair to say we know every inch of this boat and have faced a wide variety of seafaring challenges.


three people on a small boat
The Nereid with observers on survey.
Returning from a survey at twilight.
Right whale "Sliver" lifts his giant head next to the Nereid. Photo: Allison Henry

Our team is often asked if the right whales know us or recognize us after all these years. The answer is almost certainly no, since all of their senses are geared towards the environment below the ocean’s surface. But we have been incredibly fortunate to have a sturdy boat to witness right whales in this incredibly dynamic habitat over these past 40 years.

Thank you, good friend, for your dependable partnership and steadfast service.


The Nereid approaches a surface active group.
Surveys done aboard the Nereid are made possible in part by the generosity of Irving Oil, lead sponsor of the New England Aquarium’s North Atlantic Right Whale Research Program since 1998!

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