9 am Whale Watch - Krill
Friday, June 26, 2009
9 am Whale Watch - Krill
Thursday, June 25, 2009
2 pm Whale Watch - Krill
Capt. John Boats had not been offshore since Saturday due to the nor'easter that created strong winds and high seas off the coast of Massachusetts. So when Wednesday rolled around and there was a break in the weather, we were very excited to get offshore and see how the storm had impacted the whales and the bait.
As we headed toward Stellwagen Bank, the clouds rolled in and obscured the sky making it a bit chilly offshore. As we continued east, the fog rolled in giving us less than 1 mile of visibility. Since we typically find whales using our eyes and our ears, reduced visibility doesn't cause as much havoc as you would image with our ability to locate whales offshore. As we came onto the southern edge of Stellwagen bank, we picked up 3 humpbacks that were feeding in unison. This group was charging through a small area and appeared to be feeding deep.
After watching this trio for approximately 20 minutes, we headed a bit more to the east to see if we could pick up additional sightings before the end of our trip. We came into an area with dense patches of sand lance visible at the water's surface. Sand lance is the favorite fish or prey of whales and other marine wildlife in our area. Hundreds of seabirds were feeding on sand lance or were resting in rafts at the surface. Pelagics included sooty shearwaters, greater shearwaters, laughing gulls and juvenile northern gannets.
Our passengers were treated to amazing looks as this humpback whale repeatedly lunged at the surface. These lunges were fast and erratic, making it impossible to predict where and when the whale would resurface. As we drifted with our engines in neutral, the whale lunged mouth open directly off the bow (front) of the vessel. A once in a lifetime view for most of our passengers onboard. I heard one passenger comment that this was better than any show you can see at SeaWorld! I would have to agree!
As the fog continued to clear, we picked up a second humpback whale that had also located this dense supply of sand lance. The whale started to kick-feed followed by open-mouth lunging right next to the boat. When a humpback kick-feeds, the animals slaps its tail (fluke) on the water's surface to stun the bait and create a disturbance. Then the whale circles back under the bait and often blows bubble columns in a ring-like pattern. As the bubble rise to the surface, they create a barrier for the fish and thereby help to concentrate the bait for the whale.
This impressive feeding behavior allowed us to view the underside of the animal's tail (fluke) in an effort to learn the identity of this humpback whale. We observed a black tail with a number of vertical white lines. The whale also had a chunk taken out of the trailing edge on the left fluke. We quickly identified this whale as the humpback named Tracer, a whale we have seen quite often this season.
As our visibility continued to improve, we saw a third humpback whale feeding in the distance. So over the course of our trip, we had at least 6 humpback whales, 1 minke whale and hundreds of seabirds on the southern part of Stellwagen Bank.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
9 am and 2 pm Whale Watches - Fred
It was a better day, weather-wise, than predicted. Mostly cloudy with some blue skies in the AM, and almost all cloudy in the PM (but never any rain). The AM and PM trips were sort of like "bookends" - i.e., they were more or less like mirror images, so to speak. In the AM trip, we started-off with a close approach from a humpback, and ended the trip watching feeding whales, while, on the PM trip, we started with feeding whales, and ended up with a close approach from two "people-watching" humpbacks.
On the AM trip we started not too far from the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank with a close boat approach from an unidentified humpback, who also gave us some flippering, a chin-slap breach, and a full body breach. We then headed a bit further east and found Habenero, who, however, was not overly cooperative. Since a Provincetown boat was further to the east and was not seeing a whole lot, we headed north-northwest up Stellwagen Bank, in the general direction of the old BE Buoy, and there were indeed quite a few humpbacks in the area. We concentrated on Wizard and Rune, who were moving slowly to the northwest.
On the PM trip we headed out toward the southeast corner where a couple of boats (Provincetown and Barnstable) had stumbled into some heavy humpback surface and sub-surface feeding. We had some excellent looks at a number of humpbacks (especially Walrus, Trident, and Scylla, among the assemble multitude) devouring sand lance. As the feeding frenzy died down, we headed off just a bit whereupon two unidentified humpbacks corralled us with a close boat approach. It's ironic that often the "closest" and "friendliest" whales are the ones than might be the hardest to ID due to lack of "fluking in the right direction."
There were many pelagics present on both trips, both associated with feeding humpbacks and elsewhere (and also lots of adult and immature herring gulls but only associated with the feeding whales). The pelagics included mostly greater shearwaters and Wilson’s storm petrels, but there were a fair number of sooty shearwaters and even a couple of Cory’s shearwaters, both generally associated with the greater shearwaters. A birder aboard that I talked with also reported a couple of jaegers (not sure of the species).