Friday, June 11, 2010
2 pm Whale Watch Trip - Leah
This afternoons trip went wonderfully. We had a beautiful sunny day with a slight swell. We started our trip with the feisty little calf of a humpback whale named Perseid. The calf caught our attention from the very beginning, as we were approaching the bank we saw a few breaches from her and that's how we started our trip.
Once we arrived near the calf she changed her behavior. Perseid's calf of this year was showing off a little bit by lobtailing and showing us inverted lobtailing. She was very curious about us on the boat and was swimming very close to the boat. Also with this mother and calf pair we had a whale named Tongs who was being very low profile along with Perseid.
After we left the calf we moved on and found another group of three whales that were identified as Anchor, Wizard, and Anvil. This group was staying at the surface long enough for us to get some great looks at them. However, they would then dive and stay down for about 6-8 minutes. When they would return though they did give us great looks at their flukes so that identifying them was very easy. We also had a sooty shearwater and a wilson storm petrel offshore with us today. What a day!!!
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
We had an excellent day out on the water this morning. We couldn't have asked for a clearer day. We started our trip off at the bank with two low profile Humpback whales. We decided not to stay with them to long for the sake of they were staying down for about 6-8 minutes and then resurfacing far in the distance and a game of leap frog was not what we wanted to play, we wanted to see some other whales that were around so we moved on.
Today, on a 10:00 chartered whale watch aboard the Capt. John & Son II, we had a not particularly "easy" trip. First, the whales had spread out a bit. Second, the whales had moved further east (to the far side of Stellwagen Bank). Third, the two pairs of humpback whales we did see (the first of which may have been a mother and calf, while the second pair certainly were a mom and calf) seemed to be swimming somewhat erratically (with the mother whales seemingly hunting for schools of fish). Fourth, the whales never put their flukes in the air at all, so we were not able to easily individually identify the mother whales.
Still, it was indeed a beautiful day offshore, and we did indeed get to see four humpback whales (and it probably was the first time that most people on the boat, chartered by a middle school from Connecticut, have ever seen any whales). And, it is always extra special, I think, to see any mother and calf pairs. So, it was indeed a successful whale watch, and over a hundred middle school students will never again think of whales in the abstract.
We started our trip with Nile and an unknown. Both these whales kept a pretty low profile. They were feeding deep, but Nile did roll over on her side for us for a quick brief moment.
Next we came upon a mother calf pair, that were also keeping a fairly low profile and doing a lot of subsurface feeding. We were very lucky though to have a gorgeous close approach by both mom & calf. This gave our passengers a nice up close and personal look at these magnificent animals! They came right up to the boat, and then came up and under right on the other side! Shortly after our close encounter they began logging, and we headed home, but what a great opportunity our group had to really marvel at these beautiful creatures!
Monday, June 7, 2010
8 am Whale Watch Charter - Fred
It was a clear day on the water today, since the wind switched around, coming from the NW after the cold front that came through late the day before. However, the NW winds were pretty strong, so we had a bumpy ride out to the whales, but the wind started subsiding while we were watching the whales, and the ride back to port was more subdued. Visibility was excellent - perfect for spotting whales.
There were approximately a dozen humpback whales scattered about just a few miles NE of the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank, most of them assembled into pairs. We spent time with a solitary whale that may have been feeding deep (it was staying down quite a while after each sounding dive), and then spent the rest of the time with three pairs of non-feeding whales in succession. There were about 12 to 15 Atlantic white-sided dolphins accompanying the second pair of whales, and the third pair of whales gave us a very nice close approach for a while. One time one of these last two whales spouted, a nice rainbow appeared in its spout (photo below).
Sunday, June 6, 2010
"Numbers, Names, and Friends" -- On the AM trip today we had the opportunity to meet nine humpback whales out on the hazy SE corner of Stellwagen Bank, right after we retrieved a cluster of balloons floating on the water about a quarter-mile from the whales. All on board the Tails of the Sea must have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the nine whales, especially during the several times that they breached (and we did see a lot of breaching on this trip - I do believe that each of the nine whales breached at least once sometime during the time we were watching them). But, just how did we know that there were ~nine~ whales? And, more importantly for the research we do on the population of Massachusetts humpback whales, which ~particular~ individual whales did we see?
One whale that we saw that that I don't think I've ever seen before was Release (photo above). How do I know I have probably never seen this animal before? Why, from the distinctive fluke markings, of course. Release certainly does have very distinctive markings (especially the several vertical black marks on its left fluke), and, if I had seen those markings before, I would probably have already recognized Release by sight. But, upon checking the photo I had just taken with the photos in a catalog of fluke and dorsal fin markings we keep on the boat, I learned that my new humpback friend was named "Release".
Just why Release is named "Release" I do not know. I am assuming that the name does have something to do with Release's markings, simply because nearly all of the several hundred Massachusetts humpbacks have names related to their markings - however, with several hundred whales, it is difficulty to know all of them (or even most of them), or to know why each is named what it has been named. But, it is helpful to know as many names, and reasons, as possible.
Above is a photo from today's trip of Milkweed, a whale that I hadn't seen since last season. However, I knew instantly it was Milkweed from seeing its markings.
Milkweed is named for the black marks on its right fluke that resemble milkweed pods on stems (above).
Above is a photo of another friend I saw today for the first time since last season - the image shows the flukes belonging to Freefall. Why "Freefall"?
Note the "free falling skydiver" marked in black on white on Freefall's right fluke (above).
In general, humpback names are based on humpback fluke markings, although sometimes they can be based on dorsal fin markings instead. However, sometimes (such as today), one or more whales can be recognized from the shape of their dorsal fins or the markings on them, even if their names actually derive from fluke markings. For example, the dorsal fin above (shown with flukes belonging to Whisk) belongs to Freefall - there is no other whale in our local population that has a dorsal fin shaped at all like Freefall's - if we didn't actually get to see Freefall's flukes on this trip, we would still know from its dorsal fin that we had seen Freefall.
Whether Freefall's dorsal fin (above) is the result of an injury or whether it is natural, we cannot say. However, it does help us know for sure that we saw Freefall. That is, we can say with certainty that we did see a particular whale named Freefall, and we can easily count Freefall as one of nine whales that we did see.
Counting whales, who spend only part of the time at the surface, and who do not necessarily come to the surface all at once either, can be difficult. However, if we are able to know the ~names~ of the whales we saw, or if we can at least recognize each of them individually, we can count them more easily and more exactly: This morning we saw Release (#1), Milkweed (#2), Freefall (#3), Whisk and calf (#4 and #5), Perseid and calf (#6 and #7), and Cajun and calf (#8 and #9). (The calves will all receive their own names generally at the beginning of their third season in Massachusetts Bay.) So, we can say that saw ~nine~ humpbacks on this morning's trip.
However, more important than the fact, that we were able to name and able to count this morning's whales, is the fact that we saw them as nine ~individual~ creatures. You see, the most important part of any whale watch is likely the exposure that we humans get to the inhabitants offshore and their environment. In truth, our species is easily The Most Dangerous Species on This Planet, and the more that we are able to empathize with all the creatures around us, the better off they are - and the better off we are. So, the ultimate significance of seeing nine individual whales, all of whom (except for the calves) have their own names, is that we can better empathize with each of them. So, if one of the whales had ingested the nearby balloons by accident while engulfing a school of fish, which could bind its stomach or intestines, possibly even leading to death by starvation, it would not have been "just" a whale that died. It could have been a particular whale friend known to us as Freefall, or a mother whale named Whisk, perhaps. The crime against the particular whale by a thoughtless member of our species would therefore not have had an ~anonymous~ victim. The victim would have become known to everyone on the boat by ~NAME~.
Our passengers went home today after having met, and having had the opportunity to empathize with, ~Nine~ new ~Named~ humpback whale ~Friends~.
On an unsettled morning (thundershowers) we headed out of Plymouth Harbor (where there were northern gannets feeding with terns inside the breakwater) toward the southern end of Stellwagen Bank. We found one unidentified humpback whale (who never put its flukes in the air) heading slowly SE just a little bit E of the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank.
We then went N a bit, and proceeded to watch five humpbacks - Whisk and calf, Perseid and calf, and Jabiru - apparently feeding below the surface. We ended up concentrating on Jabiru, who stopped the apparent feeding (even as the two mothers continued doing so) in order to breach several times before settling down to do some flippering.