Monday, September 14, 2009
12 noon Whale Watch - Krill
After a foggy day yesterday, conditions offshore today were clear, crisp and just beautiful. You couldn't ask for a nicer day out on the water. We did have a SE swell of about 4 feet and the wind was out of the WNW, the wind and the swell diminished over the course of the trip.
Once we left Plymouth Harbor, we headed east toward the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank. We were hoping to pick up a few humpbacks in this area, but were not able to locate any whales in this area. The whales do move around quite a bit as they try to find the most productive areas offshore. So it is not unusual to have whales move out of an area overnight.
As we headed a bit more north up along the bank, we
came into an area with a huge concentration of seabirds. Many were resting on the surface or feeding at the water's surface. Although we had hundreds of birds in this area, we were not able to find any whales that were also taking advantage of what had to be a large amount of bait. So once again we changed direction and headed on to try and find where the whales had moved over the course of the night.
To the east of the bank, we picked up a small cluster of whales that were dispersed throughout the area. Our first sighting were two humpback whales that turned out to be a mother and calf pair. We have seen this calf before and it has prop scars in front of its dorsal fin and on its flanks. Sad to see such a young animal scarred in this way, but wonderful to know that this animal survived the collision with some type of vessel.
As we watched this mother and calf pair, the calf started tail breaching in succession. Humpback calves are just as playful and curious as the young of other mammals and they are often seen jumping out of the water tail and head first. The calf then started to flipper slap the waters surface and then barrel roll to right itself. Our passengers enjoyed seeing this calf seem to enjoy the beautiful day offshore.
Our next sighting was a young humpback whale, probably a juvenile by the size of the animal, that came right up to the boat and stayed with us for over 10 minutes. This whale was obviously very curious about us and cruised along the side of the boat to get a better look at the people along the rail. At one point, the whale blew bubbles from below the boat. Not sure of the significance of the bubbles, but it almost seemed as if the whale was teasing us as it stayed just out of sight beneath the hull of the boat.
Our last sightings were single humpback whales that were resting on the surface. After taking a few good looks at those animals we headed back to Pymouth Harbor. On the way home, our captain spotted an ocean sunfish very close to Gurnet Point (see top photograh). As we slowly approached this very large and very unusual looking fish, we were treated to one of the best looks at an ocean sunfish that I have ever witnessed in over 30 years of working offshore.
The ocean sunfish is the largest bony fish in the world, weighing close to 1 to 2 tons and sporting a length of 6 to 8 feet. The ocean sunfish that was next to our boat was probably around 4 1/2 feet in length and had scars on its dorsal surface indicating that it had been hit by a boat. This fish does spend a lot of time at or near the surface of the water and this is how it obtained it common name, the ocean sunfish. But it is gentle giant and migrates into our cold norther waters to feed on jellyfish, ctenophores and other gelatinous critters. Although we expect to see ocean sunfish in our waters as early as August, this was only the 5th sighting of an ocean sunfish I have seen all season.
If you are interested in helping us learn more about ocean sunfish and basking sharks, please go to the New England Basking Shark project's website (www.nebshark.org) and report sighting of these very unusual and unknown fish. Your sightings will help scientists learn more about these incredible animals.