11 am Whale Watch Trip - Joanne
Saturday, June 26, 2010
11 am Whale Watch Trip - Joanne
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
Our last looks of the whales were of them all swimming away together. What a fabulous day of whale watching and what a special look at an amazing calf.
All of the the ~adult~ whales we saw on this morning's trip aboard the Tales of the Sea seemed to be feeding. I say "seemed to be" because we couldn't actually see the feeding going on. Sometimes we do see whales feeding at or close to the surface, where the feeding behaviors and sometimes the prey animals themselves can be observed. The number one prey species for most of the whales we see in Massachusetts is a small fish called sand lance, which is a very mobile small fish - besides moving from place to place horizontally, sand lance can sometimes be found right at the surface, but they can also be found close to the bottom, even burrowing into the very sand on the bottom (whence the name "sand lance"). On this morning's trip, we observed a number of adult humpback whales apparently feeding at a couple of locations over Stellwagen Bank where the sand lance may have been close to the bottom.
When sand lance are close to the surface, humpbacks do not have to dive deep to reach them - they typically dive just deep enough to get below the fish in order to drive them toward the surface (which is, of course, an effective barrier that fish cannot flee across very far). Surface sand lance makes for easy feeding for the whales - they don't have to dive very deep or for very long - and it also makes for easy observing for whale watchers - we can easily see much of what is going on. However, when sand lance are located deeper in the water column, the whales have to "commute" longer distances to find them and to feed on them, and we have to be content with observing the whales surfacing less frequently, taking fewer breaths, diving for longer periods, and coming up often further away from where they left the surface.
On today's trip, most of the whales we saw were taking fewer breaths at the surface, taking longer dives, and coming back up at less predictable locations - therefore, we assume that the whales were feeding on deeper sand lance - but, not all whales were feeding today as we watched them. We did see Nile and a minke whale near the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank, apparently deep feeding. Out further to the NE, close to the E side of Stellwagen, we did see Grackle, Sloop, Cajun, Perseid, Milkweed, and Pele, also apparently deed feeding. However, the two calves that we saw (Cajun's and Perseid's) did not seem to be feeding. Perseid's calf seemed to be quietly spending much of its time at the surface while its mom was feeding below, but Cajun's calf, in contrast, spent some of its time at the surface actually ~above~ the surface - Cajun's calf launched itself quite often into the air with chin-slap breaches and with spinning-head breaches, sometimes not very far from our boat. Although we have seen Cajun's calf apparently feeding alongside its mom on previous trips, on this trip the calf seemed to have breaching, and not food, on its mind, and our passengers were likely not disappointed in the calf's choice.
2pm Whale Watch - Leah
Woohoo!! We had a roller-coaster of a ride today. It was very sunny and HOT as we were leaving the dock today and once we got passed the Gurnet light, it seemed like we passed through a weather portal. We started to get a little fog off in the distance, it didn't affect our visibility to badly but it kept us from seeing Provincetown. Also the clouds accumulated quickly and we started to see a few flashes of lightening and heard some thunder while out there. Which is not at all frightening when you are fairly close to the highest point on a boat in the middle of the water. The wind also started to pick up while we were out there.
But the weather did not upset our success of seeing whales. Once we got to the bank we had a group of six of seven humpback whales. We had two mother calf pairs, Perseid and Cajun and their calves. We also had Milkweed and Pele. The two calves in this group were being particularly feisty, Cajun's calf was breaching when we were arriving and Perseid's calf was rolling and flipper slapping the entire time we were watching them. I can't imagine how dizzy that calf was by the end, but kids will be kids.
Cajun's calf eventually joined in the fun of rolling and flipper slapping for a little while, but then continued diving a long with the other adult whales. They were having the equivalent kind of fun that a child has when they spin around over and over in an office chair. The wind was also continuing to increase as we were getting ready to leave which added to the roller-coaster ride of trying to get back to Plymouth. We were knocked around a little bit, and got a little wet but after a little traveling we were safe and clear of the wild waves. I've been getting spoiled with having calm water days I forgot just how much fun a change in weather can make the water.
This trip was rated two flippers up!!!!
On today's 9am Charter we welcomed aboard Girl Scout troops from the Dartmouth Service Unit. We had one of the most beautiful days out there on the water. There was not a cloud in the sky and the sea was flat calm. We got out there and immediately found a finback whale, it came up to the surface a few times so we could get some good looks and some pictures, then it dove and we didn't see it again till the end of the trip when we were on our way back into the dock. As soon as we left the finback, we found a minke and it did the same thing the finback did, it surfaced a few times, then dove and we didn't see it again.
On the 2:00 trip today aboard the Tails of the Sea we visited an area I've not been to much during this season (at least so far). Generally during this spring we've been somewhere on or at least near the S end of Stellwagen Bank. However, on this afternoon's whale watch we tried our luck about a third the way up the W side of the Bank, close to the original location of the BE Buoy.
(The BE Buoy, which marks the "median strip" between the inbound and outbound shipping lanes in and out of Boston as they pass over Stellwagen Bank, was moved a few miles further N a couple of years ago, to keep the shipping lanes further away from whale concentrations - where we were on this trip was close to where the buoy used to be situated - note, in the photo above, the large outbound ship transiting a few miles N of the humpback shown breaching - it was not too many years ago when such ships traveled across Stellwagen quite close to where this whale was located today.)
Visibility was excellent under a sunny sky, although an increasing wind from the SSW caused the seas to build to about 3 feet or so, making for somewhat sloppy conditions on the water. We spent most of out time with a humpback whale named Pitcher, who breached, tail breached, flippered, lob tailed, and generally made himself/herself as obvious as possible while we were nearby.
Passengers sometimes ask why whales do such active behaviors as breaching, etc. The answer, of course, has to be that we don't really know - who can know what is going on in a humpback whale's large and anatomically complex brain? Suggested reasons include the "common" ones (play, exercise, communication, aggression, etc.) as well as the perhaps "less likely" reasons (knocking barnacles off, helping to digest food, scratching an itch, etc.) - who can say, though? It may possibly be one of these reasons - or it may be something we haven't thought of yet - or it may likely be different reasons at different times - but, again, who can say?
Sometimes such dramatic displays are exhibited by one whale, while at other times multiple whales may be involved (but, even then, we can't even know if multiple whales are affecting each other, or if they are each being active for their own private purposes. (It does seem as if, when humpbacks meet, and when they separate, they sometimes do something "splashy".) On this particular trip, one passenger asked me on the way back to port if Pitcher "was showing off for us". My answer had to be - you guessed it - "I don't know". My hunch is that, at least most of the time, humpbacks (especially) just love being alive, and like to express their "Joie de Vivre" on occasion in very dramatic displays.
Herman Melville, who wrote "Moby Dick" about sperm whales and their human hunters, did in fact know a lot about whales, having served himself on whaling vessels. At one point in "Moby Dick", Melville remarked that humpback whales seem to be "the most lighthearted and gamesome of all the whales". Well, I think that Herman Melville was likely quite correct, and I tend to think that the passengers aboard our whale watch vessel this afternoon would probably agree as well.