Saturday, May 21, 2011
9 am Whale Watch - Krill
Another foggy day offshore. As we headed towards Stellwagen Bank and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, we saw a number of small group or pods of harbor porpoise. Harbor porpoise are the smallest of all the cetaceans that feed in our coastal waters. These little whales are around 5 feet in length and feed on small school fish, esp. herring.
We also continue to see many adult and juvenile Northern gannets. These birds are quite striking in their appearance and in the fact that these birds have a 6 foot wingspan.]
As we crossed over Stellwagen Bank, we found a single finback whale that was feeding deep on the eastern edge of the bank. We realized very quickly that this was our old friend, Loon, a finback whale that was first sighted in 1976.
Loon was staying put in our area for she was feeding deep. We could see Loon circling the bait as she returned to the surface to take a series of breaths. We assume that when she dove, she was then lunging mouth open through dense schools of small schooling fish. But we couldn't see this behavior, we could only deduce it from the behaviors Loon was exhibiting when she returned to the surface to breath.
As we waited to Loon to surface, we noticed a small warbler flitting around the boat. This turned out to be a Northern Parula Warbler and this little bird perched on the boat for a well deserved rest.
All in all a good day of whale watching even with the restricted visibility.
2 pm Whale Watch - Leah
Proving yet again that weather should never dampen our spirits, it was a rather foggy day on Friday. However we went out in search of the whales that spend there time with us during the summer. Right off the bat we did have a small group of harbor porpoises, right outside of the Gurnet, they weren't at the surface for very long so we did continue on.
We traveled around Race Point and then tracked back right along the beach in search of a set of finback whales. We found the finbacks and were watching them for quite awhile, they were both lunge feeding. Occasionally they would come up to the surface fast enough that their heads would come right out of the water, rorqual pleats and all.
The rorqual pleats or the stripes that are along the lower jaw allow the whale to take in as much food and water into their mouth as possible, these pleats stretch out like a party lantern. The two finbacks that we were watching were separate from each other and we would move back and forth to watch the two of them. We also had Northern Gannets and white-winged scoters.
And we also did a plankton tow and Ronnie, one of our, and my favorite, crew members was walking around the boat showing the passengers what the whales we were watching were feeding on.
Friday, May 20, 2011
9 am Whale Watch - Krill
Today we reconnected with old friends from Ticonderoga Middle School in New York. Teachers Janet and Kyle brought their 7th Grade class aboard the Son IV for a fun day of whale watching. This group of kids turned out to be the best behaved and most interested group of 7th graders that Krill has seen offshore in a long time. And with reduced visibility for most of our trip offshore, it wasn't an easy day for anyone.
As we headed over the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank, we continued to deal with dense fog providing us less than 1/4 mile visibility. We were able to get a quick look at a seal that dove off the starboard side of the boat, but it never returned to the surface so we were not able to get a species ID on this animal.
We headed east and still no visibility and no whale sightings. Our captain, Captain Russ, decided to head SW towards Race Point and that decision turned out to be a very good one. We soon found ourselves in an area with improved visibility of up to 2 miles. In this area, we saw a commercial fishing vessel towing their next behind the boat. This dragger was just a few miles off Race Point, but there is a steep drop off close the Race Point so it was in at least 200 feet of water.
As we slowly moved through this area, one of our passengers thought he saw a fluke or tail of a whale go down. So we stopped and waited and were very happy to see a humpback whale finally surface off our bow about 1 mile to the south of us.
This whale turned out to be a humpback named Anvil, a female who has had a number of calves born into this population. Anvil was surfacing erratically and frequently changing her heading when she returned to the surface to take a breath. These are all signs that this whale was probably feeding deep and was circling the bait before opening its mouth and lunging beneath the surface of the water.
Our captain called our sister ship over for a look at this humpback whale. It was nice to see the Tails of the Sea offshore for she was looking very pretty with a group of students from Cardinal Spellman onboard.
Also in the area were adult and juvenile Northern gannets, common terns and sooty shearwaters. So all in all a productive and successful day of whale watching offshore. We are hoping for better visibility in the future since we find whales by looking for them with the naked eye or with binoculars. So visibility is very important for any type of wildlife viewing for it allows you to see animals great distances from your location.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
12 noon Whale Watch - Leah
What a strange yet typical New England day, we were trapped in fog, which made the searching effort extremely difficult. We got in touch with one of the other whale watching vessels that had left previous to us and they told us where to start our search. Which on a day with this little amount of visibility was like finding a needle in a haystack. We were set on trying to find a humpback whale that was around but we never did find it.
However, after we had turned around and started on our sweep of the water again, the fog started to lift and we could see Provincetown, we also got to see a lovely lone finback whale. This finback that was observed had some scarring in front of the dorsal fin and could have been a whale named Loon. Loon was an absolute delight to see, because her scarring is healing nicely and she was staying up at the surface giving us time to look at her and talk about her while out on the water.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
12 noon Whale Watch - Krill
We had another day of gray skies combined with a marine forecast that included rain and fog. But as we headed offshore, we had a feeling that we would be able to get all of our whale watching in before the weather turned. And we were right!
As we crossed over the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank, we noticed a large concentration of seabirds and gulls. Many of the seabirds were adult or juvenile Northern gannets and the gulls were a mix of adult and juvenile Great Black-backed gulls and Herring gulls. We even saw a small number of Laughing gulls. Seeing seabirds and gulls offshore is always a good sign that you are in a productive area. If this area has attracted the birds, it may also have attracted marine mammals like whales. So we kept our eyes sharp as we continued to the east.
Soon we spotted a blow or spout from a large whale rising just a few miles off our starboard bow. As we slowly approached, we realized that we had a lone humpback whale that was traveling slowly to the southwest, toward Race Point and the tip of Cape Cod.
We were having a hard time identifying this animal since it did not fluke out very high. But with the help of modern technology, we sent a few photos via cell phone to CJB naturalist extraordinaire Joanne Jarzobski, who quickly identified this whale as Mogul. Thanks for the help Joanne!
As we waited for Mogul to return to the surface, one of our passengers noticed something brown bobbing in front of the boat. This turned out to be a harbor seal that was resting on the surface in a behavior called bottling. This seal must have been sleeping for a while, for its snout was completely dry.
As we slowly approached the seal, we were able to get an amazing look at this small, but beautiful marine mammal. I was surprised at how close we actually got to this animal as it stayed at the surface seemingly just as curious about us as we were about it! Finally, it turned and swam away just as Mogul surfaced off our starboard bow.
The rains held off for us and the fog bank visible a few miles all around us, stayed put. So we were very lucky today with not only sightings, but also weather offshore. Actually, the weather man was wrong. It was a beautiful day offshore!
Monday, May 16, 2011
12 noon Whale Watch - Krill
We left Plymouth Harbor on our noon whale watch aboard the Captain John & Son IV. As we moved through the harbor, we were treated to eerie views of Plymouth Beach, as the mist was rising above the shoreline.
The weather report for the day was increased clouds, reduced visibility and probably rain. So we kept our fingers crossed that we could get our whale watch in before the weatherman's prediction materialized.
We passed the Mayflower II on the State Pier and the Pilgrim Belle, the Mississippi-style paddlewheel vessel that does the harbor tour in Plymouth Harbor. Many of our passengers were surprised to learn that the red paddle wheels churning off the stern are this vessel's only method of movement through the water.
As we passed Gurnet Point and headed offshore, we picked up our first sighting, a solitary minke whale feeding deep on few miles east of Plymouth harbor. Minke whales, like all baleen whales, tend to spend the majority of their time alone. However, if there is a lot of bait in an area, then you often find a few minkes together. But watch closely, for you will discover that although these animals are in the same area, they are still feeding on their own. After a few good looks at this minke, we decided to press on for we wanted to find some larger baleen whales before the fog closed in.
We headed east of Stellwagen Bank and ended up in a thick fog bank. Our visibility was reduced to less than 1/4 mile making it difficult if not impossible for us to find whales at any distance. I did see my first Wilson's storm petrel, the smallest of all the seabirds that feeds offshore. What a beautiful bird!
We decided to head to the southwest bringing us back toward the tip of Cape Cod and the beaches of Race Point. This is a wonderful area for sighting large whales including finback and humpback whales. As we passed Race Point Lighthouse at the tip of Cape Cod, our visibility improved, but still no whales in sight. So we headed into Cape Cod Bay and picked-up a single finback whale feeding deep.
This whale turned out to be an old friend called Loon. Loon has been photographed off Cape Cod since 1976 and she has been reported to have a number of calves over that time period. Loon was named for a light pigmented mark on her left flank. Usually, this mark is only seen when Loon prepares for a deep dive, arching her back and exposing much of her left flank. If you look closely, you will see that just forward of the dorsal fin is a light mark that looks similar to a loons head and bending neck. And this is how Loon got her wonderful name.
In the summer of 2005, Loon was accidentally hit by one of the fast ferries coming down from Boston as it headed towards Provincetown harbor. The boat had gone right over her back, cutting through the skin and blubber just in front of the dorsal fin. Loon obviously survived this collision, but fast boats are one of the great hazards for coastal marine wildlife feeding in our waters.
As we watched Loon, we commented on how her swimming pattern was very erratic and unpredictable. During one sighting, Loons surfaced off our port side and was heading slowly away from the boat. And then in a blink of an eye, she surfaced off our starboard bow, charging fast and powerfully after unseen schooling fish. Nick Schomburg, our NECWA intern onboard the boat, was the only one who was fast enough to photograph this feeding lunge. Nice job Nick!
We headed home happy and amazed at what we had just seen. Although the minke whale is not considered an endangered species, the finback whale is. But what a treat for all of us onboard the boat today to see a finback who has been studied for over 30 years. Loon has become more than just "another finback whale," She has become a good friend who has helped us learn about the life of this amazing species.