On a Saturday night in April Scott Kraus is getting ready to take out his boat from Sandwich, Mass., to spend the evening on Cape Cod Bay’s calm waters. Kraus, vice president of research at the New England Aquarium, and his two-member crew are not out for a leisure sunset cruise but are on a mission—they want to find out what North Atlantic right whales are doing at night. “It is like pulling an all-nighter in college, without the beer,” says Kraus, who has loaded an arsenal of military-like night vision tools on the boat, including a high-resolution infrared camera, a light intensifying scope and a mirrorless, low-light digital camera. Kraus has been studying right whales for more than 35 years.
In Cape Cod Bay Kraus’s efforts are paying off. The infrared camera revealed temperature differences between healing and surrounding tissues in some of the right whales. The hot spots, located on the mammals’ heads, possibly indicated an infection, but those lesions were not visible to the eye in daylight. “That might mean that infrared cameras could be used as a health assessment diagnostic tool,” Kraus says.