Saturday, August 7, 2010

Whale Watching Trip August 7, 2010

9 am Whale Watch Trip - Fred

[Note: Having been placed on the "naturalist disabled list", I was a guest whale watcher on the Capt. John & Son IV - Joanne served as the naturalist on this particular trip.]

Today was an incredibly clear day on Massachusetts Bay - visibility was essentially unlimited. The wind was light as well, so that the seas varied from glassy to only a slight chop, making for a beautiful day on the water.

Heading across the Bay and up onto Stellwagen bank, we did see (but passed by) a couple of minke whales - we elected to keep going out towards the E, since we knew that we were likely going to have to "go the distance" out to the E side of the Bank in order to find some humpback whales.

We did end up in the same general area we have had to travel to over the last few weeks, but we did get to watch two groups of humpback whales, five in each group, doing some subsurface feeding (but fortunately not diving for very long periods at all).

One group of whales included Cajun and her calf (above image of their dorsal fins), Milkweed (often seen with Cajun as of late), Bolide (first flukeshot, with mostly dark flukes, below), and an unknown humpback (which I do not believe I've ever seen before in our humpback catalog - second flukeshot below).

The other group of five whales included another mother and calf pair (Whisk and her pup - see Whisk's flukeshot below), Alphorn and Pele (both often seen with or near each other and with Cajun and her calf over the past few weeks, although on this trip we saw them associated with Whisk and her calf), and one more unidentified whale.

It was intriguing to observe the cooperative feeding behavior of the two fivesomes. In general, all five whales in each group would dive close together (Pele always being the first of the Whisk group to sound), and then would generally return to the surface together (although sometimes one calf or the other, not being such good breath holders as the adults, would sometimes pop to the surface earlier than the adults did).

Near the end of our time watching whales, both groups surfaced ahead of us, with one group out in front to the right of our bow and the other group ahead to the left, and then Cajun's calf breached clear of the water (unfortunately just once and without warning, hence no photo). So, we ended our trip far out to the E in dramatic fashion, watching all ten whales in two close groups all at the same time, with one calf breaching for an exclamation point, before we finally had to head back to port.

We did see a few times some seaweed floating loose in the water (sample above, of a green seaweed with some delicate red algae attached), and I am reminded of an important point for whale watchers to note. Although we do occasionally see seaweeds floating offshore, they are always drifters from some shallow shore area somewhere, since the bottom depths out around the whales (typically 100-plus feet on Stellwagen Bank, and even deeper outside the Bank) is far too deep for light to penetrate enough for bottom plants to grow. Instead, the basis of the elaborate food web that involves the whales is microscopic floating algae (phytoplankton), which is also (sort of) shown in the above photo above by the greenish tinge to the water around the macroscopic seaweeds.

Although on every whale watch we necessarily have to spend part of each trip "commuting" to and from the whales, it is certainly not wasted time, as there are always many other natural and man-made items to observe as well. Unfortunately, not all of these "extras" are delightful to see. On the way out towards the whales on this trip, when we were probably nine or ten miles from Plymouth, we saw a lone jet ski (shown above) and its rider heading S across our path, "way out in the middle of nowhere". Well, of course, it was literally not "nowhere", but it certainly was a long way from land (that's Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, probably about a dozen miles away in the background).

Admittedly it was a very clear day, with slight seas, but this single jet skier, without any companion at all, out in open water many miles from the closest shore, likely with no radio (but, fortunately, at least wearing a flotation device on his chest), was putting himself in great danger. It is difficult to believe that someone could be so foolhardy, and I just hoped, as I snapped the photo above, that I had not just taken the last picture of the skier alive.