For the 11:00 trip today on the Capt. John & Son IV, we headed out of Plymouth Harbor bound for an area a bit N of the SE corner of Stellwagen Bank. There we watched nine to ten humpback whales apparently deep feeding, but (fortunately, and unlike some recent trips) staying below the surface for only a few minutes at a time. We were able to identify Pele, Alphorn, Anchor, Division, and Cajun (see above flukeshot) and her calf.
Sometimes humpback whales will come over to a boat and give a close approach, a "close encounter of the whale kind" (see Cajun's dorsal fin image, above). There seem to be certain individual whales who do this more than others (and Roswell comes to mind as a prime example of this), but often it is the mother and calf pairs that may choose to approach a boat. The mother whales may likely be very protective of their calves, but the calves may have unbridled curiosity that can overcome this, and a boat very still in the water may sometimes be rewarded with a mother/calf close approach (see Cajun's calf's flukes, below).
Recently, we have noticed that Cajun and her calf may often treat whale watchers with a friendly close approach, typically going under the boat from one side to the other before then starting to move off. Although some mother/calf pairs may stay with a boat for a while, it seems to be Cajun's "style" to make close approaches with her calf frequently but briefly, as we saw once again today (that's Cajun to the left and her calf to the right, in the image below).
Today was a great day out on the waters of Stellwagen. I had rather low expectations for the bird activity, after hearing multiple reports with not many birds out there, but it turned out to be quite a birdy day, and the whale show was fantastic as well.
The most numerous bird out there today was the Wilson's Storm-Petrel, thought by many to be the most numerous bird in the WORLD, apart from domestic chickens of course.
Also nice, in addition to the 430 Wilson's Storm-Petrels, was seeing all four species of regular shearwater that occur on Stellwagen, namely Manx, Cory's, Sooty, and Greater Shearwaters.
We also saw at least 13 whales, including four cow/calf pairs, one of which was new for Stellwagen this year, Orbit and calf. Orbit and calf celebrated their arrival by repeatedly breaching, to the delight of all on board.
Partial bird list below.
Greater Shearwater 78
Sooty Shearwater 8
Manx Shearwater 1
Cory's Shearwater 7
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 430
Northern Gannet 2
9 am Whale Watch - Krill
We had beautiful weather offshore with clear skies and winds out of the southeast. The winds increased as we headed offshore, but spirits were high as we started looking for whales, dolphins and porpoises. As we crossed over the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank, we picked up a mother and calf pair. This is the mother that we saw yesterday, but could not identify for we never got a good look at her ventral tail pattern. It took us a long time to figure out who this mom was and it was Joanne who finally cinched the identification. This mother turned out to be a humpback female named Orbit and this is a recent sighting of her this season with a calf by her side. What a wonderful sighting and what a relief to figure out the identify of this beautiful mother.
Mom and calf were traveling slowly to the southeast. What made us nervous were all the small recreational vessels that were speeding through our area as they moved to and from the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. These boats were traveling at maximum speed and as they passed by, they took a path that was in direct line with the last position of the mother and calf pair. On both occasions we held our breath hoping that the calf would not surface as they passed by. Luckily, neither mother nor calf surfaced when the vessels were speeding through our area, but these moments remind us of the many dangers these endangered marine mammals face when they are in our waters to feed and to raise their young.
After leaving Orbit and her calf, we headed northeast and picked up a group of 5 humpback whales that were feeding deep. This group turned out to be Cajun and calf, Pele, Division and Alphorn. It was fun and exciting to see this group charge around the area once they returned to the surface to breathe. Cajun's calf stayed very close to mom's side and it looked as if the calf was really watching and learning from the movements and the behaviors of the adults.
As we watched this grouping, a second mother and calf pair passed to the north of us. We were never able to identify this mom since both mother and calf presented a low profile, but we did notice a small group of dolphins surfacing in their vicinity. And in the distance, we saw a large tanker coming out of Boston Harbor traveling in the shipping channels that cut across Stellwagen Bank. Large or small, any boat presents a hazard for these animals and other coastal marine wildlife that come to feed in our waters offshore.
All in all a great day offshore wtih wonderful sightings of endangered whales. Best of luck to all these new moms for this season. Let's hope that everyone offshore slows down for their sake and the sake of the marine wildlife in the area.