Saturday, October 9, 2010
12 noon Whale Watch - Krill
As we headed offshore, we saw blows to the east of Stellwagen Bank. As we slowly approached, we found two humpback whales that were traveling together. We waited for this pair to return to the surface and to our surprise, they surfaced right next to the boat.
As we drifted with our engines in neutral, the two humpback whales surfaced around the boat. It was clear that they were very interested in us as they swam first from one side of the boat to the other. Our passengers were thrilled to see these large endangered mammals up close and personal. Hard to believe how large they are yet how gracefully they move beneath the water.
One of the whales rolled over in order to get a better look at us. Whales have eyes that are very low on the head and set back close to where the upper and lower jaws meet. So they need to roll on their sides or stick their head out of the water when they try to get a better look at something at the water's surface.
As we continued to drift offshore, one of the whales moved away from the boat and continued traveling to the west. But the second humpback continued to be interested in us for another 20 minutes. As we watched this whale, we noticed some unusual markings on the whale's back. Upon closer inspection, we realized that this whale had healed propellor scars on the left side of its head just behind the blowholes. And this whale had long, thin scars that were white in appearance located on its upper back.
Whales and other marine wildlife deal with vessels of every size and shape offshore. Not only are our waters a hot spot for whales, dolphins, seals, sharks and seabirds, but they also attract people in vessels of all types. When a whale and a boat collide, it is the whale that comes out on the short end of the stick. But this whale seemed to be OK and doing well. We are thankful that its unfortunate encounter with a boat was not fatal and are amazed that this animal continues to take an interest in boats even after having a negative interaction with one in the past.
We must remember that it is a very special occasion when a whale gives us a close approach. We don't get to experience as many close approaches as we would like over the course of our season. So every close approach, including this one, is a very special event for all of us onboard.
12:00 pm Whale Watch Trip - Krill
We had a rough ride offshore, but our passengers were ready for the wind and the waves. October can be a month of high winds which produce rough waters offshore. But these conditions can also produce more activity from the whales we watch each and every day. And today's whale watch was no exception.
As we headed offshore, we got word that a few humpbacks were still off the backside of Cape Cod. As we headed into that area, are sighted an ocean sunfish sculling on the water's surface. We didn't have time to stop on this amazing and unusual looking fish so we kept on going to Race Point, the tip of Cape Cod.
In this area, we found a number of small and therefore young, humpback whales that seemed to be feeding deep just off the beach area. One whale decided to breach or jump just off our bow which provided amazing looks at one of the largest marine mammals that feeds in our waters offshore.
Again high winds and rough conditions offshore often result in greater activity by whales, especially humpback whales. And our passengers were treated to a number of breaches all around the boat over the course of our trip.
A happy crew as we headed back to Plymouth Harbor. As we slowly left the whales, we saw a flock of sea ducks fly past us. This group included some surf scoters, one of my favorite birds in the area.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
12 noon Whale Watch Trip - Krill
We had a rough ride offshroe with strong winds out of the Northeast. But our passengers were enjoying the ride as we headed offshore towards the backside of Cape Cod. Over the past week or so, most of our sightings have been down the backside, also called the ocean side, of the Cape. Here we found at least 10 humpback whales, many not more than a mile offshore.
Our first sighting was a humpback whale named Ventisca. This whale has a lot of white pigmentation on her, more than most other humpback whales that come to feed in our cold New England waters. Ventisca has a lot of white pigmentation on her tail stock and the top or dorsal surface of her tail (fluke). And she has a lot of white pigmentation on the ventral (bottom) surface of her flukes.
Ventisca also has a lot of white on both sides of her dorsal fin. And her dorsal fin is very large and rounded. Features and markings on the dorsal fin and on the ventral tail pattern can be used to identify individual humpback whales. In our area, this work has been conducted since the mid 1970's and there are over 2500 individual humpbacks who have been photographed and included in the catalog. Ventisca is one of the easier whales to identify at sea. And looking at the photographs included in this post, I think you can understand why.
The ventral pattern on the left fluke shows parallel rake marks that were caused by a killer whale attack. Killer whales are the largest dolphin in the dolphin family and will sometimes work as a team to take down another whale. That is where they get their common name, "whale killer" is easily switched around to "killer whale." We don't have many sightings of killer whales in our area, for they prefer deeper waters to the east of us.
Ventisca was probably feeding deep as she surfaced on alternate sides of our vessel heading in a variety of directions. She lifted her tail high in the air and this gave us a chance to photograph her ventral (bottom) tail pattern with the Cape as the backdrop.
Are next few sightings were not that easy to get a look at. Even though there were quite a few humpbacks just off the Coasta Guard beach, no one was spending much time at the water's surface. Every once in a while, we would catch a breach (jump) by one of the single humpbacks in the area. But no individual kept up these active types of behaviors for very long.
Our final sighting was a small humpback that surfaced just off the starboard side of our boat. What a thrill to see this endangered marine mammal so close to the boat. Our captain put the engines in neutral as we floated next to this animal. As we watched in awe and anticipation, the whale arched its back and lifted its flukes out of the water.
What a beautiful sight and a wonderful way to end our trip offshore today.