Thursday, May 5, 2011

May 4, 2011

9 am Whale Watch - Krill

A windy and overcast morning offshore. As we headed across the southern part of Stellwagen Bank, we saw splashing to the east. This turned out to be two finback whales that were feeding together along with a large concentration of gulls and seabirds.

The swell was out of the Southeast and the wind was East making for a rolly polly ride offshore. Lots of spray coming over the right hand side of the boat, Starboard side, but many of our passengers were enjoying this spring, ocean shower!

This pair was lunging on their side as they opened their mouths wide ton engulf as much food and fish as possible. At one point, we saw two fluke tips rise straight up in the air and realized that both whales were lunging on their sides, side-by-side. What an incredible sight!

We moved further to the east and picked up Geometry who was traveling to the Southwest. As we waiting for Geometry to surface, we saw two other humpbacks traveling our way. This turned out to be Ventisca and her new calf of this year. What a treat!

This calf is very curious and once again, it came right over to the boat and gave us a close approach. Not only did the calf come over to say hello, but mom came over as well. We were amazed to see just how much larger Ventisca is compared to her calf. Mom must be close to 50 feet in length while her calf is closer to 20 feet long.

The waves were rocking us back and forth as we drifted quitely with this mother and calf pair. After 20 minutes, Ventisca and calf moved on as we said our goodbyes as the captain backed the boat away from them. We started our journey back home when we came upon a very active right whale. This animal was breaching out of the water tail first, a behavior called tail breaching. Because right whales are very endangered, we had to stay at least 500 yards away from this individual. But we could clearly see just how big and beautiful this individual was.

As we continued to the west, we picked up a small group of humpacks that were using bubble nets to feed at the surface. In this group, we were able to identify Circus, Barb, Hancock and Mural. Big thanks to the team at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies for all their help in identifying and confirming these humpback individuals and others.

Mouths were wide open as multiple humpbacks surfaced in bubble nets. The birds were going crazy as they dove into the water to catch a fish of their own. The gulls, Northern gannets and other birds know that whales will often push the bait to the surface when feeding. This makes it easier for them to get at the fish and feed. So the birds are also whale watchers. They know that whales means food and plenty of it.

A happy crew aboard the Son IV today. We ended up with a 5 species day in terms of cetaceans sighed. Those species included: humpback whales, finback whales, minke whales, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and a North Atlantic right whale.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May 2, 2011

9 am Whale Watch - Krill

We headed offshore with Capt. Bob and crew members Ron, Rich and Ann. Onboard were students and teachers from Hingham High School and a small number of public passengers. The winds were light and the sky was clear and blue, making for wonderful sighting conditions offshore. We headed to the southern part of Stellwagen Bank in hopes of finding feeding humpback whales.

As we crossed over the southern part of Stellwagen Bank, we came into an area with lots of activity. We had at least 10 humpback whales that were surface feeding in small groups or on their own. Mixed in with the big whales were over 100 Atlantic white-sided dolphins. And as we watched in awe, we saw minke whales and finback whales feeding along the outside of this group.

Many of the humpbacks were kickfeeding as they prepared to dive beneath the schools of sandlance. Then they would spiral back up to the surface blowing columns of bubbles as they swam. This created a bubble net that helped the whale's concentrate the fish.

Two of the whales were charging together, side-by-side, and lunging quickly out of the water with mouths wide open. No bubble net, no warning from this pair which made it difficult getting a picture of them in action.

Two of the humpbacks were feeding very close to the boat and it almost felt as if they were using the boat to help them concentrate the sandlance. This pair turned out to be Monarch and Circus. We were also able to identify Whiplash, Nile, and Northstar. Nile is Leah's favorite whale so she will be very happy to hear that Nile has been seen this season.

An amazing day for all onboard, even the seasoned captain, naturalist and crew. Happy faces and high spirits accompanied us back to the dock.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 1, 2011

12:00 pm Whale Watch - Krill

We headed out of Plymouth Harbor with strong winds out of the East. Our destination was the SE corner of Stellwagen Bank for we were hoping to pick up some of the humpbacks that had been feeding there the day before.

As we crossed over the bank, we started seeing large number of Northern gannets and gulls. And we saw a number of commercial fishing vessels working their way back to the harbor after a day of fishing offshore.

As we approaches the SE corner of the bank, we saw splashing all around us. We had at least 15 humpback whales feeding in small groups or on their own. Most were kick feeding and using bubble nets to help them coral the bait. And many were lunging at the surface with mouths wide open. Scattered throughout this area were at least 100 Atlantic white-sided dolphins that were feeding alongside the larger whales.

Our first sighting was a single humpback whale that was breaching repeatedly. This whale continued to breach and alternated chin breaches with spinning head breaches. What a thrill for all of our passengers onboard to see this whale jump clear out of the water, again and again. Then the whale rolled over and started flippering, first on its side and then belly up. One of our passengers, Kari Heistad, sent us some photos to use on this blog. Thanks Kari, your images are fabulous!

We headed south closer to Race Point and picked up another whale feeding on its own. This whale was using its tail to disturb the bait in a behavior called kick feeding. Then the whale dove under the bait and started blowing bubbles creating a temporary net-like structure. As the bubble rose to the surface, the whale lunged mouth open engulfing as much food and water as was possible. Finally, the whale started to strain or push the water back out of the mouth so only the fish remained. Leah, our NECWA intern onboard, identified this individual as Nocturne's 07 calf.

As we watched this feeding frenzy a large finback whale surfaced off our starboard side. We were able to get a few quick looks at this fast and streamlined animal before it dove beneath the water. We assume that the finback was also feeding in the area, but if it was, it must have been feeding deep.

Then to our delight, a North Atlantic right whale surface off our stern. Since right whales are very endangered, we have to move away from any individual that surfaces close to our vessel and that is exactly what we did. There are fewer than 450 right whales remaining in the western North Atlantic and Federal Regulations stipulate that all vessels stay at least 500 yards away from any individual.

Our final sighting was a trio that turned out to be Ventisca and her new calf of this year traveling with another adult whale. Ventisca is a humpback that is easily identified for her dorsal fin has a lot of white pigmentation on both sides.

The calf was very playful as it breached right off the side of our boat. This calf was also very curious and came over to check us out. Ventisca also joined her calf close to the boat and one wonders if mom was a bit nervous about her very curious youngster.

A fabulous day of whale watching and wildlife viewing. And a wonderful way to start the season.

April 30, 2011

12:00 Whale Watch - Tammy

We left Plymouth Harbor with mostly cloudy skies and light winds. As we approached the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank, we spotted a single North Atlantic Right whale. This animal was just travelling along, possibly feeding right below the surface. We didn’t spend too much time with this animal, as we had reports of several active Humpback whales in an area just east of the Bank known as “the triangle”.

As we crossed the Bank and neared the triangle, we saw several blows and big splashes in the distance. As we got closer, we found ourselves in the middle of a feeding frenzy! We had Humpback whales as well as Atlantic white-sided dolphins and many birds, including Northern gannets, in the area.

Initially, there were two groups of 5-6 whales, one group on either side of our boat. These whales were using several different feeding techniques including kick feeding and bubble cloud feeding. Kick feeding is when a whale smacks its tail on the surface of the water in order to stun its prey. Bubble cloud feeding is when a whale produces bubbles that serve to confuse and corral its prey.

After a bubble cloud is seen, it is likely that the whale will lunge across the surface of the water with its mouth wide open, engulfing as much food and water as possible. This is known as lunge feeding. It was amazing to see these 40 ton animals lunging across the water with their mouths open wide and lower jaws extended!

Time and time again 2-4 animals would surface at one time, mouth agape. It seemed the groups of 5-6 whales were working cooperatively to hunt fish. We would see one animal kick and dive down. A few seconds later we would see 2 or 3 bubble clouds being produced, followed by 2-4 animals lunging at once.

As we continued watching these two main groups, we had several other groups pop up a little further away, also engaging in the same feeding behavior. At one point we had several whales producing bubble clouds and lunge feeding right under our bow! It was incredible watching all of these different groups working together!

Shortly before we headed back to Plymouth, we spotted another Right whale in the area. This whale seemed to be just passing through all of the commotion, and probably skim feeding along the way. We slowly moved away from this animal, catching a few more glimpses of Humpback whales feeding all around us before heading home. Best whale watch so far this season!