2 pm trip:
Saturday, August 27, 2011
9 am and 2 pm whale watches - Tammy
9 am trip:
It was a beautiful morning offshore with glassy seas and light winds. As we traveled across Stellwagen Bank we saw a single, small blow produced by a humpback whale. At first this whale was logging or resting at the surface. We then saw several fluke out dives from this whale, as it would dive for about 5 minutes, surface for 3-5 breaths and dive down again.
By looking at the ventral fluke we identified this humpback as Sanchal. After 3 or 4 dives, Sanchal began spending more time on the surface. Sanchal was rolling around from side to side and actually appeared to be quite “squirmy” under the surface. During one roll we got great looks at the pectoral flippers and we noticed a sea lamprey attached to Sanchal’s flipper.
Sea lampreys are parasitic fish that attach to other fish using sharp teeth. Lampreys actually feed on the tissues and blood of their hosts. It’s not common to see lampreys attached to humpbacks, but it’s not completely unusual either and we have seen it before. This particular lamprey actually detached from Sanchal’s flipper as the whale was rolling. It was really interesting to see (I have never seen it before) and it may help to explain some of Sanchal’s “squirmy” behavior; perhaps Sanchal was trying to remove the lamprey.
Interpreting the behavior of wild animals is always tricky though. We tend to liken animal behavior to human behavior because human behavior is all we have as a reference (for example, I’m describing the behavior as “squirmy” because that is what I could call a human that rolling and twisting around); however, interpreting the behavior of wild animals in a human context can be a mistake and the behavior can actually mean something completely different. It’s possible that we will never completely understand what these whales do and why they do it!
Once we left Sanchal, we came across a small shark. This was likely a blue shark, as the shark had long pectoral flippers compared with its body. The shark stayed near the surface for only several seconds, and it soon disappeared into the deep. We also had quick glimpses at minke whales traveling in the area, but we did not spend any time with the minkes as they were quite elusive. Our last sighting was of another single humpback whale that we identified as Scylla’s 2008 calf. We saw several graceful dives from this juvenile whale before heading home.
2 pm trip:
This afternoon we had several humpback whales scattered around southern Stellwagen Bank. We started our trip with looks at a couple of humpbacks traveling solo. We then picked up a pair of humpback whales spending time together. We got some fantastic looks at this pair of whales as they surfaced on either side of our boat. The water was so clear that you could see the outline of the entire whale below the surface. We identified one whale in this pair as Rattan. Rattan and “friend” weren’t diving for too long, but they produced very forceful exhalations when they surfaced, implying that this pair was diving deep and was likely feeding. As we continued watching this pair, we noticed several other humpbacks moving into the area.
We saw two other single humpbacks fluke on dives and we identified one whale as Scylla’s 2008 calf. Another pair of humpbacks also surfaced near us at the end of our trip. Another wonderful day offshore!
11am whale watch - Leah
Welltoday was definitely the calm before the storm. The water was extremely calmtoday, the sky was clear and the wind was nice and light. It seems today I washaving a bit of trouble identifying whales on the spot. I had thought we hadColt and Pogo, but it turns out we had whales who have similar patterns on thetail but were not who I thought they were.
Wetraveled down around the back side of the Cape today and encountered Scylla's2008 calf, who I thought was Colt, a wonderful humpback who was very friendlywith our boat and was giving us great looks at the surface. This whale wasresting at the surface hopefully saving up some energy for the weather that weare going to be shortly experiencing this weekend.
Afterthat we moved on a little ways and found another humpback, who I thought wasPogo, but turned out to be Ivee's 2008 calf. This juvenile so trying to getsome rest before the storms started up. We also had a few minke whales and onewas a very small animal. I thought it was a dolphin at first, but it wasdefinitely a baleen whale due to the double nostrils on the blowhole.
Therewere also a great number of Wilson's storm petrels but not a lot of otherbirds. Which definitely makes me wonder what do these animals know about thisstorm that we don't know. Nature is fascinating and completely awe inspiring,and there is still so much we don't know.
9 am and 2 pm whale watch trips - Krill
9 am trip:
Winds were increasing out of the southwest as we headed offshore. The word on the water was that the humpbacks had moved down the backside of Cape Cod. This is often a great location for whales since bait is plentiful in this area. And you often see lots of small fishing vessels, both recreational and commercial, taking advantage of this productivity.
Our first sighting was of a very active whale that was breaching in the distance. As we approached, the whale rolled over and started flippering, first on its side and then belly side up. What a sight to see the long white flippers being lifted out of the water and then repeatedly smashed on the water's surface. The noise made by the flipper hitting the water sounded loud and a bit painful. I wonder if it really hurts the whales at all for they often perform this behavior for minutes at a time.
Flipper slapping changed over to lobtailing where the whale lifts its tail (fluke) out of the water and smashes it on the water's surface. This behavior gave us a chance to view the underside of this animal's tail (fluke) allowing us to identify this individual as Tracer.
It was obvious that Tracer was very excited about something, but what that something was eluded us as observers to this amazing scene. Determining the motivation of an animal is difficult if not impossible for us as whale watchers and wildlife viewers. And this is especially true when one studies and observes large, highly evolved mammals.
But what we can say is that this whale did almost every active behavior you could expect to see from this species of large baleen whale. So whatever was bothering or exciting this animal was extremely important from the animal's perspective.
As we continued to watch Tracer, he fluked out with a lot of force. That was our cue to get ready for a possible breach or jump. And jump he did! He almost cleared the water's surface as he did a spinning head breach right off the bow of our boat. What a sight for all of us onboard!
As we watched Tracer settle down and move away, we headed back southeast towards Highland Light off North Truro. This is a beautiful lighthouse perched very close to the cliff edge.
In the distance we saw a single humpback at the surface. As we approached, we saw that this whale had a white scar forward of its blowhole and it had a rounded dorsal fin. We had an idea that this was Coral, a male humpback whale that was born into this population.
2 pm trip:
As we headed down the backside off the shores of Truro, the seas were a bit calmer than what we were experiencing at the end of our morning trip. This reduction in sea height may have been due to the fact that we were now at high tide. With a less bumpy ride, we were able to use our binoculars more as we searched for whales off our bow.
Our first sighting was a very special pair of humpback whales, Division and her calf of this year. Mom appeared to be feeding deep and often fluked out as she dove beneath the waves. The calf was spending a great deal of time at the surface as if waiting for mom to hurry up and get done. At first the calf was just floating at the surface, waiting for mom's return.
Then the calf started breaching first head first (spinning head breach) and then tail first. The the calf rolled on its side and lifted its long white flipper out of the water to flipper slap. What a silly kid!
And then, out of the blue, the calf rose to the surface and opened its mouth wide, holding it in that position for close to a minute. The calf repeated this behaviors of opening and closing the mouth as it floated at the surface. In all my 30 plus years of working offshore, I have never seen a calf perform this behavior.
I have seen calves and adults open their mouths as they play with seaweed, draping the seaweed on their rostrum and lower jaw. But there didn't appear to be anything draped over this animal's head and therefore, we had no idea why the calf was doing this behavior.
This goes to show you that no matter how much time you have spent in the company of these wild animals, they never cease to amaze you and do something totally different and unexpected. That is one of the main reasons why I keep heading offshore after all these years. I just love it and I can't seem to get enough!
As we watched mom and calf, a young Northern gannet flew by. We are just beginning to see our gannets return to our Cape Cod waters and this bird gave us a great pass by. We decided to move on and picked up a few single humpbacks in the area. Since none of these animals were spending much time at the surface, we decided to check out a trio just a bit more south of our position.
This trio turned out to be Tear, Echo and Ivee's 2008 calf. At first, all three animals were traveling side-by-side. As they fluked out, we had a chance to see just how different their ventral tail patterns were.
Ivee's 2008 calf (dorsal surface of fluke)
Ivee's 2008 calf (ventral surface of fluke)
We assumed that like Division, these adults were feeding on fish deep beneath the water's surface. But then the mood and activity level of this trio changed and Tear started getting active.
Tear rolled over and started flipper slapping, just like Division's calf. But this flipper was much larger and more impressive than the calves. Even over the sound of the wind and the engines, we could hear the loud "slapping" sound that was produced when Tear brought his flipper forcefully on the water's surface.
Humpbacks included: Division and her calf of this season, Tear, Echo and Ivee's calf of 2008. Seabirds included: Northern gannet (juvenile), sooty shearwaters, greater shearwaters, manx shearwaters, common terns and Wilson's storm petrel.
11 am whale watch trip - Dianne
We were already watching a massive hurricane forming in the Caribbean when we woke up this morning, but we also had some predicted bad weather locally for this afternoon. The day started out as sunny with winds at 15-25 from the SW. We knew we would be in for a bit of a bumpy ride, especially on the ride home, but our passengers seemed up for the adventure and they were fortified with motion sickness pills, so away we went!
As we approached Provincetown, the wind and seas began to pick up, but as soon as the Capt. turned the boat towards the back side of the Cape and in towards the beaches we were able to see the blows of several animals. We were able to watch 5 different Humpbacks this morning including two old friends, Coral, and Division.
We also watched but were unable to positively identify a mother, calf pair. We had several Minke whales pop up around the boat and passengers actually got some very good looks at them. As we headed home, the winds and seas picked up again and some of our heartiest passengers enjoyed a salt sprayed ride home!