Friday, June 18, 2010
With the fact that we only had a mile and a half visibility for this mornings trip, we had a pretty excellent trip. It took a little while to find whales in the fog and haze, but we did find some out there today. As we were heading out to the bank there were at least two minke whales that were in the area. They weren't staying up for to long, they'd surface twice then disappear from view. Also between seeing the minkes in the water there were a few schools of tuna that were startling the birds at the surface of the water and feeding very quickly on bait under the surface. Some were coming up so quickly they were almost clearing the surface of the water. Also along our path to search for more whales we had a fairly good batch of birds around in the water. We had four or five wilsons storm petrels, a few sooty shearwater's, a group of greater shearwater's, and a Jaeger.
June 17th, 2010 - 2 pm Public Whale Watch
Wow, what a trek we had this afternoon. We had a completely different trip in the afternoon than in the morning. The wind picked up a bit in the afternoon, which would make a naturalist hope that this was a positive thing and would stir up some more animals and activity. But, you can never make assumptions when you are on a boat in a completely vast open ocean.
Today was a day where we had to "work for our whales". On the AM trip we had slight seas but often very poor visibility, especially around the whales. On the PM trip the visibility improved somewhat, but the wind and seas also had picked up quite a bit, making for a bumpy time spent with the whales.
We did manage to find a solitary adult humpback whale named Pisces a bit N of the SE corner of Stellwagen bank who was slowly moving to the W. Its motion was fairly consistent for quite a while, allowing us to parallel it for a time. We had to work at staying with it, since the fog at times was thick enough that we had to locate the whale after it surfaced by ~listening~ for its spout - it often came to the surface just beyond our limit of visibility. Eventually, Pisces changed direction and we lost it (which was particularly frustrating for us, since we were also trying to keep track of it for the sake of the whale watch charter on the Captain John & Son IV, which left the dock some time after we did).
We thought we had re-found Pisces when we thought we heard it spouting in the fog about ten minutes after last seeing it, but we soon discovered that the spout sounds were coming from a solitary minke whale in the same general area. So, we did end up seeing two whales of two different species, but it was hard work - nonetheless, I am sure everyone aboard the Tails of the Sea thought the effort was well worth it. (It was not long after we left the whales, heading to the W, that we "punched out" of the fog bank to find a partly sunny morning with good visibility for the way home.)
On the PM trip we were aboard the Captain John & Son II, and we found that the wind had picked up quite a bit from the calm day we experienced in the AM, but at least the visibility seemed to be pretty good. We found a pair of adult humpback whales not too far from the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank. These whales appeared to be feeding all the while we watched them, although we actually saw direct surface evidence of feeding behavior only once. We identified the two whales as Tulip and Ursa. Tulip has mostly black tail flukes, but with a grayish-white area on the right fluke that supposedly resembles a tulip flower (however, while I do find the mark very useful for identification, I personally don't see the flower).
Ursa has much more white on its tail flukes than does Tulip, but the most obvious feature is the several areas of parallel back-and-white stripes left by teeth from a killer whale attack sometime in its past ("Ursa" is the Latin word for "bear" - Ursa's flukes appear as if they had been raked by bear claws). Interestingly, a fair number of our humpbacks do show killer whale teeth marks, and, curiously, the white areas scar as dark and the dark areas scar as light, so that parallel dark scars can be found on light areas and parallel light scars can be found on dark areas, and Ursa's flukes do show both possibilities. (We also had a brief look at a minke whale a couple hundred yards away from the humpbacks.)
On most of the trips I've been on over the last couple of weeks there have been few birds seen (likely reflecting the apparent fact that the sand lance (the small fish that the birds and whales feed on) has seemed to be staying deeper than near the surface. Happily, on the PM trip especially, we did see quite a few shearwaters (mostly sooty shearwaters with a few greater shearwaters mixed in), so perhaps more sand lance is spending more time closer to the surface.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
10 am Whale Watch - Diane
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Today we had a very nice day on the water. The weather had been threatening all day, but we never had any significant rain at all until we got back into Plymouth Harbor at the end of the PM trip, long after leaving the whales. Furthermore, the marine forecast for wind was wrong - while we were supposed to have significant wind and waves out of the S all day, the wind was quite mild on our AM trip and almost nonexistent on our PM trip. (There was a gentle SE swell when we were far to the E on the AM trip, but it didn't seem to bother anyone aboard.) Of course, ANY day you can see whales is a GOOD day, but, when the weather cooperates, it's always even nicer.
On our AM trip we ended up at the SE corner of Stellwagen Bank, where we had a chance to watch a number of humpback whales. We started with a trio of slowly surface traveling humpbacks - two of them turned out to be Pele and Bayou. We moved on to spend a short time with a solitary unknown humpback, and then moved over to a pair of whales, who turned out to be Barb (who, despite the name, is a male - the name is not short for "Barbara", but is based on a fishhook barb-like mark on his tail flukes) and the 2008 calf of Compass, who treated everyone aboard to a close approach - while we were stopped in the water watching them, they approached us, went under one side of the boat, and then came out under the bow before slowly moving off.
While this close approach certainly was the highlight for our AM trip, the biggest surprise on the trip occurred on the way home, when we stopped for two humpback females (Nile and Cardhu) "logging" (resting at the surface of the water) just N of the SW corner of Stellwagen. (We have not seem many whales near the SW corner as of late, which is actually a bit unusual for most spring seasons, so to find these two whales there was a bit unexpected.)
On our PM trip we intentionally targeted the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank (where we had seen Nile and Cardhu earlier). This strategy paid off for us, since, as it turned out, we had a few humpbacks, a couple of minke whales, and even a finback there (and we have not seen many finbacks during this season so far, so that itself was a bit of a surprise). Unlike our AM trip further to the E, where most whales seemed to have been "hanging around" between feeding periods, on the PM trip it did seem as if all of the whales were feeding (although not at the surface - it did seem as if all of the whales were diving towards - and surfacing back from - schools of fish located deeper in the water column).
One surprise on the PM trip was seeing the 2010 calf of Cajun apparently feeding along with its mother, and with Nile, Anchor, and Tongs - time after time, Cajun's calf would dive along with the adults and then surface with them a few minutes later (although there were a couple of longer dives where the calf did surface for a couple of quick breaths in the middle - calves cannot hold their breaths as long as the adults can). What was a bit unusual about Cajun's calf's behavior is that, during the spring season, many calves seem fairly content to just "play around" at the surface while their mothers feed below, to turn fish into thick, rich whale milk, while some other calves can sometimes be seen merely passively mimicking their mothers' feeding behavior. In this calf's case, though, it really did seem to be trying to feed alongside the adults as a member of an organized feeding squadron the entire time we were observing them.
I do suspect that the calf will still be receiving additional months worth of milk from Cajun, but my hunch is that this calf must be one of the older calves in the population, probably born early in the winter season on the Caribbean calving grounds. Further evidence of the calf's age was provided by seeing the calf's tail flukes in the air a few of the times when it dove - most younger calves are not buoyant enough yet to have their flukes appear during normal dives.
If the feeding by the squadron of Anchor, Nile, Tongs, Cajun, and Cajun's calf was the high point of our PM trip, the low point had to be finding an aluminum beer can floating on the calm surface close to the whales. I have no idea where the can came from, of course - hopefully it was not from our boat - perhaps it was from one of the many sport fishing boats also on the SW corner not far from us - however, one can reasonably assume that it was from some careless or clueless member of our species, and NOT from one of the whales.
Because of the lack of wind and waves I cannot even suggest that maybe it simply fell off or blew off a boat. It was somewhat flattened, so it would not have rolled very well anyway, The most logical conclusion had to be that it was THROWN into the water. It is absolutely unfathomable to me how anyone could enjoy boating on beautiful Massachusetts Bay and then literally trash that beauty by throwing a beer can into the water - sad, very, very sad. (We did take a few couple of minutes away from watching whales to have one of our crew members retrieve the beer can with a gaff after our captain maneuvered our boat into position to do so.