Saturday, April 24, 2010
3:30 pm Floating Classroom - Krill Carson;
Today was the first official floating classroom provided by Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours out of Plymouth, MA. The group onboard were high school students attending the 16th Annual High School Environmental Symposium sponsored by Mass Maritime Academy. Students participating in this two-day symposium came from all over the state of Massachusetts.
Volunteering onboard the floating classroom was NECWA intern Nick Schomburg. This was Nick's first floating classroom as an instructor, but he had participated in a similar floating classroom program as a 7th grade student at Plymouth Public Schools. Nick jumped right into the Plankton Observation Station and co-taught the station with Dr. Sandy Williams.
Students were fascinated to get a closer look at the plankton net that had just been used to collect a sample for their observation. And what a fabulous sample it was for it was chock full of copepods and amphipods as well as an occasional marine worm and ctenophore.
Students examined magnified zooplankton samples using dissecting scopes as well as hand-held Discovery Scopes. Many could not believe what they were seeing as critters zoomed in and out of view.
Additional learning stations included Navigation and Safety in the wheelhouse with Capt. Sean Baker and Nautical Knot with Captain John crew members Robie and Nate. It was fun to see who was better at knot tying and it wasn't always the male students!
Another station was dedicated to the American Lobster. This station was lead by Michael Pigo-Cronin who has been a naturalist with Captain John Boats for many years. Students learned about the biology and ecology of this very important invertebrate as well as the fishing industry surrounding it.
One last station was the touch tank station where students could closely examine and handle many different types of live marine animals. Belinda Rubinstein, a NECWA staff member, had fun showing the students just want critters live in Plymouth Harbor in the spring. There were a lot of oohs and ahhs as students picked up spider crabs, hermit crabs, lobsters and other slippery marine invertebrates.
Students spent 10 minutes at each station and then rotated to the next station in line. All stations included a number of hands-on activities that engaged the students and helped them connect to the marine environment around them.
At the end of the floating classroom program, the Tails of the Sea, our luxury whale-watching vessel owned and operated by Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours passed us as they were heading in from their afternoon whale watch. From conversations over the radio, it sounded like the whale-watching trip was a great success regarding the number of whales and the behaviors observed.
Soon it was our turn to pull the anchor and head back to the dock. Students and teachers alike agreed that this was a very fun, educational and exciting floating classroom program. We wish these students a fun two-day symposium and look forward to more floating classroom programs this season.
12 noon Whale Watch - Joanne Jarzobski:
We headed offshore with clear, sunny skies and a brisk NW wind. Once out of the harbor, we had 1-2 ft seas as we headed into Cape Cod Bay, which built to 2-3 ft seas later in the day. We didn't find whales until we were nearly in Provincetown, just south of Wood End Lighthouse. We started with a single finback whale.
We then watched two humpback whale named Aerospace. They were traveling together and raised their tail flukes high with each dive. As we watched this pair, we saw a very active humpback south of us.
With not much time left, we headed to the breaching humpback, which continued to breach and flipperslap non-stop. We got incredible looks at its ventral grooves and long white flippers.
On our way out of Cape Cod Bay, we passed one more humpback whale. It was a beautiful spring day offshore!
12 noon whale watch - Krill Carson:
We had a busy day offshore with views of baleen whales, toothed whales and seals. We headed out to the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank, but were not able to find any whales feeding in the area. So we headed southeast and worked our way into Cape Cod Bay. We had wonderful views of the Pilgrim Monument situated right in the heart of Provincetown. As we continued past Herring Cove and Wood End, we headed deeper into Cape Cod Bay.
Just off Long Point in Cape Cod Bay, we could see blows from big whales that were still a mile or so south of our position. We could also see a large number of Atlantic white-sided dolphins that were feeding on their own or in conjunction with the larger, baleen whales.
As we continued south, a pair of humpback whales surfaced close to our boat and continued to travel alongside us. One humpback lifted it tail out of the water and we were able to identify this animal as Angus.
The second humpback was smaller in size and it also fluked out. But the angle was bad and therefore, we never got a look at the ventral tail pattern. However, we did get a good look at the tail stock on the right side of the body, and there are obvious scars and raw areas indicating that this animal had been previously entangled in some type of fishing gear. Great to see that this animal is now gear free.
We passed a gray seal that was in this same area and was probably feeding, just like the large whales and the dolphins. Gray seals are one of the most common seal in our New England waters and actually breed on the south side of Cape Cod.
Our next sighting was a small pod of Atlantic white-side dolphins that were feeding all around the boat. Overall, there were probably 150 dolphins spaced throughout the area. Some were feeding on their own while others were feeding alongside the humpbacks and finback whales that were also in the area.
Our last sighting started out with 2 humpback whales and ended up with 4 individuals that were traveling together. None of the whales gave us a good enough look at the bottom (ventral) surface of their tails so we were not able to identify them. Our passengers were happy and excited about our sightings are we headed back across the Cape Cod Bay on our way back to Plymouth Harbor.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
12 noon whale watch - Krill Carson:
Today's weather offshore is much better than what was indicated in the marine forecast. We had northwest winds that died down while we were whale watching offshore. We headed to the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank to see if we could pick up some of the humpback whales that we had sighted earlier in the week.
What we found was a small group of humpback whales that were taking long dives beneath the surface of the water.We didn't want to spend a lot of time waiting for these animals to return to the surface, so we continued traveling to the east. Our decision to move on turned out to be the best move possible for we picked up a humpback whale that was kick feeding at the surface.
We were able to identify this whale as Buzzard, a male humpback whale that was born in 2000. Buzzard's mother is a humpback whale named Reflection and she continues to feed in the same waters as her son Buzzard.
Buzzard was showing off to our passengers as he was chin-kick feeding next to the boat. This behavior is similar to kick feeding with the addition of a head lift and lunge at the beginning of the behavior. After the forceful kick, Buzzard would dive under the bait and blow a series of bubble columns creating a net-like structure. Then Buzzard would lunge mouth open just beneath the water's surface collecting hundreds of gallons of water and fish into his mouth. As he pushed the water out, the fish were trapped inside and were eventually swallowed.
As we watched Buzzard feed, we noticed the presence of a number of plastic items floating in the vicinity. Marine debris, especially plastic items, are one of the greatest hazards for these very special and endangered marine mammals. When a humpback lunges mouth open through the water, it will probably not see marine debris floating just in front of it. If the whale swallows any plastic material, then it could lead to big complications for the animal including its ultimate its death.
Earth Day is Every Day!
So in honor of Earth Day coming up this Thursday, we ask all our blog readers and whale watch passengers to do something special for planet Earth. If you love to walk the beaches, bring a plastic bag and spend a little time picking up the marine debris that is littered above and below the high tide line.
And perhaps you will have time to write a letter or send an email to President Obama asking his administration to support the moratorium on commercial whaling. Another way of helping out is to donate to an organization of your choice, one that focuses on a cause close to your heart.
There are many ways of observing Earth Day, but they all have one thing in common - they take a few minutes of your time and energy. So make every day Earth Day in an effort to celebrate and honor the beauty and majesty of humpback whales like Buzzard.
12 noon whale watch - Krill Carson:
Sunday was our second trip offshore for the 2010 season. We sailed from Plymouth Harbor aboard the Tails of the Sea and headed for the waters of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. On the southern part of the bank, we found a small cluster of humpback whales who were taking long dives and then surfacing briefly.
We also found a number of Northern gannets who were feeding further to the east. Waiting for whales who spend so little time at the surface is counterproductive for whale watching. So we decided to move on in the hopes of finding animals who were spending more time at the water's surface.
As we headed east, we picked up a gray seal that was feeding at the edge of the area where the whale's were feeding. Gray seals are one of the most common seals that we observe offshore. And this is the only seal that lives year round in our area. There is a permanent population of gray seals on Monomoy Island and Muskeget Island on the southern part of Cape Cod. And this is the only seal species that pups or gives birth in our area.
As we continued to the east, we saw splashing and white water in the distance. As we approached this area, we found 4 to 5 humpbacks that were feeding at the surface. One humpback we were able to identify was an animal named Palette.
Palette was using a kick feeding technique to help stun, and confuse the bait fish it was feeding on. After using its tail to slap the water's surface, Palette would dive back under the school of fish and would blow bubbles to create a net-like barrior. This bubble net technique is often observed by humpback whales that feed in our waters off New England. But no matter how many times we see it, it still is an amazing sight for one and all.
At the end of our trip, we picked up a very special sighting of a mother and calf humpback whale. This mother turned out to be Perseid and her calf of this year. The calf was born this previous winter in the warm waters of the Caribbean.
This is the first mother and calf pair that have been observed in our waters off Cape Cod this season. Perseid has a very black tail and although we didn't get the best of looks, it appears that her calf does as well. We will keep a sharp eye on this special pair as they spend their spring, summer and fall feeding, socializing and resting offshore.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
12 noon whale watch - Krill Carson:
Today was opening day for whale watching with Capt. John Boats out of Plymouth, MA. As we left the harbor and headed offshore, our spirits were high with anticipation. Our destination on this first trip of the year were the waters of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. These waters are a major feeding area for many different types of large and endangered whales, including humpback whales and finback whales.
When we arrived on Stellwagen bank, we found a group of 20 to 25 humpback whales that were feeding near the surface. Most of the groups were small in size and included no more than 3 to 4 individual animals. At one point, two humpback whales surfaced to feed right off the bow of our boat. Our passengers were treated to amazing views as the bubbles from the animal's bubble cloud rose to the surface just off the bow.
One of the individuals in this pair was a whale named Buzzard. Using photo-identification techniques for over 30 years has allowed biologists and scientists to identify individual animals and track them over the course of their lifetime. Buzzard is a male humpback whale that was born into this population and returns each year to feed in our productive waters. Buzzard was born in 2000 to a mother named Reflection.
Joining us offshore was a group of 8th grade students from Birmingham, Alabama. These students were from the J.H. Phillips Academy. Students and teachers commented on the seasonally warm weather we were experiencing for the month of April. And they were astonished to see that a small group of Atlantic white-sided dolphins were feeding with their larger cousins, the humpback whale.
At times, there was so much feeding activity that it was difficult to know where to look around the vessel. And at one point it seemed that one of the humpback whales that was kick feeding next to the boat got our passengers wet on purpose. As we drifted in the area of the feeding whales, two individuals surfaced right under the bow (front of the boat) as they continued to chase the bait below.
One special sighting was a humpback whale named Bayou. This whale had recently been hit by a boat and sustained severe tail injuries. Luckily, these injuries have healed nicely even though much of the right side of her tail is missing. These types of injuries are a stark reminder as to the many dangers that these animals face when they feed in our waters.
All of us will remember this very exciting and special trip. Watching these amazing and endangered marine mammals reminds us of how special New England and Plymouth truly are. For in less than 45 minutes you can be offshore viewing these very large and endangered animals.
So we hope you will have the opportunity to join us offshore sometime this season. You don't want to miss the whales and all the excitement. See you soon!