Monday, October 26, 2009
(note: All photos in this posting are courtesy of wildlife photographer Frank Mullin)
12 noon Whale Watch Trip - Krill
We had a beautiful sunny day as we headed out of Plymouth Harbor for what was to be our last weekend whale watching trip. The whale watching trip on Saturday (yesterday) was canceled due to high winds and sea so we were very excited about getting offshore. As we headed towards the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank, we noticed large numbers of Northern gannets which are the largest seabirds that feed in our waters. Most of the individuals were adult birds with a sticking plummage that included a white body, black wing tips and a yellow head. Seeing seabirds offshore is a great sign for it indicates that we are in productive areas. And since these birds feed on the same small schooling fish that the whales feed on, it also means that we have a good chance of finding whales.
As we came onto the SW corner, we saw a number of blows scattered through the area. As we slowed down, we saw two huge splashes approximately 1/2 mile east of our position. As we approached this active pair of humpbacks, we realized that we had a Blackhole and her calf who were traveling with an adult male named Seal. Blackhole was spinning head breaching repeatedly and the calf was staying close to mom. Seal was following from behind. Not sure why Blackhole was so active, but the aerial displays were breathtaking.
Frank Mullin, a wildlife photographer who was aboard the boat shot some really wonderful images of Blackhole which are included in this blog. In fact, all images in this posting are from Frank Mullin (enjoy!). As we watched this trio, Seal started to move off from the mother and calf. This is not unusual as the only long-term or permanent association in baleen whales is that of the mother and calf.
We picked up Seal a bit later in our trip and shot a number of wonderful photos of this male humpback whale. Seal was born into the population in 1984 to a mother named Mars so this male is close to 24 years old. It is wonderful what has been learned from studying these animals for over 30 years.
And much of the data collected on whales has come from having researchers work aboard whale watching boats. By combining commerce and science, much has been learned about the biology and ecology of the humpback whale. And it is through such collaborations that are offered by Capt. John Boats, that researchers and student interns are able to collect this very important information. Capt. John Boats provides space for interns aboard their vessels for a number of nonprofit organizations. We would like to thank them for their long-term involvement in the research and conservation efforts that are being conducted in this area.
After leaving Seal, we picked up another trio of humpback whales which included a mother and calf who were traveling with a humpback whale named Putter. We never saw the flukes of this mom so will need to look at the dorsal fin much more closely to determine her identity. Both mom and Putter appeared to be feeding deep as they circles the bait when surfacing. The calf was close behind or in the mix which seemed to bother the adults. Soon are humpback whales will start heading south for their winter retreat in the warm waters of the Caribbean. And either on the way back to the Caribbean or when down there, this mother and calf will separate. So mom doesn't have to be patient much longer for the calf only stays with the mom for a year and that year is almost up.
As we headed home, many of our passengers joined Krill, Magaly, Nick and Jonathan on the upper deck to pick up educational material and look at our hands-on display items including humpback baleen, dolphin teeth and preserved samples of sand lance and copepods.
Big smiles and thumbs up from many of our passengers aboard the boat today. A beautiful day offshore with fabulous looks at very endangered and special marine animals.