Saturday, October 1, 2011
12 noon whale watching trip - Krill
We had southeast winds increasing over the course of our trip. But the weather remained unseasonably warm even offshore. We headed east and crossed Stellwagen Bank in the mid part of the bank. Early this morning, one of the Captain John fishing boats had seen humpback whales feeding further to the east, so we continued over the bank in search of these animals.
As we crossed over the east side of the bank, we started to pick up seabirds like greater shearwaters, Cory's shearwaters and Wilson's storm petrels. Seabirds are a good sign when whale watching for they are often found in the same areas as the whales.
We saw a large yellow buoy off our bow and passed it on the port side of the boat. This is one of WHOI's Right Whale auto-detection buoys that are anchored in the commercial shipping channel. These buoys alert managers to the presence of endangered right whales off Cape Cod. To learn more about these buoys, visit WHOI's website at by clicking HERE and Cornell Universities Right Whale Listening Network by clicking HERE.
But to our delight, we found 2 finback whales and 4 humpback whales exactly where the fishing boats had seen them earlier in the day. We never got a close look at the finback whales, but assume that they were feeding in the same area as the humpbacks.
Our first sighting was of a single humpback whale named Lutris that we had seen on yesterday's trip. This whale was performing quick lunges just beneath the water's surface. Because the whale wasn't staying down for very long, our passengers were treated to lots of viewing time with this individuals.
Capt. Russ did a great job of anticipating where Lutris would surface. We had great looks of this animal as it continued to feed all around the boat. We wondered what Lutris was feeding on and assumed it was some type of large Euphasiid. Nick, our NECWA intern onboard the boat was able to confirm this suspicion after the trip by enlarging some of the photos we collected offshore. In these photos, Nick was able to identify tiny red critters, krill, at the surface as Lutris was feeding.
Lutris performed a number of different lunges on this krill patches that were close to the surface. Most of the time, Lutris was lunging in a horizontal position. But there were a few occurrences where Lutris lunged sideways giving us a great view of the baleen hanging down from the upper jaw. What a day and what great views of this very endangered and special animal.
After leaving Lutris, we picked up a pair of humpback whales that included a whale named Gladiator. Like Lutris, both whales appeared to be feeding on krill. But they were feeding a bit deeper than Lutris, so we weren't seeing that impressive surface feeding.
All in all a fabulous day offshore. Lots of great views of endangered whales and lots of great people onboard the boat. What a fun and very special day for everyone onboard, even the naturalist!
12 noon whale watching trip - Krill
We headed offshore with light winds out of the southwest. As we crossed over the western edge of Stellwagen Bank, we heard about a small cluster of whales on the mid part of the bank. As we moved into that area, we started to see seabirds in the area.
We had great looks at greater shearwaters and Northern gannets. Northern gannets are the largest of all the seabirds that feed in our waters, right alongside the large, baleen whales. They have a 6 foot wingspan and are quite impressive in their plumage and their feeding behavior.
As we continued to move over the bank, we picked up a finback whale that appeared to be feeding deep. Although finbacks are one of the fastest whales offshore, this animal was staying in the same general area as it was circling the bait. Even though we were missing all the great mouth-open lunging that was occurring at depth, we were able to get a lot of great looks at this animal as it surfaced close to the boat after each deep dive.
We moved on and picked up a pair of humpback whales that we also feeding in this area. We were able to identify both humpbacks and we were delighted to see Reflection and Lutris feeding together. Both Reflection and Lutris were lunging just beneath the water's surface and the lunges were quick and unpredictable.
This is not the type of feeding you typically see when humpbacks are feeding on small schooling fish. So we assumed that these animals were feeding on some type of large Euphausiid, like krill, that was a few feet beneath the surface.
As Reflection and Lutris surfaced all around the boat, we could see their ventral pleats fully expanded allowing the animals to take more food and water into the mouth and throat area. Then we watched how they would strain or push the water back out of the mouth leaving only the food behind. As the whale's fluked out, we could only imagine where they would surface next and were often delighted to see them very close to our boat.
Captain Russ did a fabulous job of anticipating where this pair would surface as they continued to feed all around the boat. At the end of our trip, this pair separated, reminding us that these types of associations in large, baleen whales are quite temporary.
Obviously, Reflection and Lutris had joined together to maximize their feeding activities. By working together, we assume that these two individuals benefitted by obtaining more plankton per lunge.
But in the life of a baleen whales, the only permanent association that exists is that of the mother and calf. Moms and their calves stay together for a year and mom takes full responsibility for raising and caring for her young. Reflection and Lutris are both adult animals. Reflection is a reproductively mature female who has had a number of calves over the years. Lutris was born in 2002 to a mother named Lava.
It is wonderful that we can identify humpback whales based on natural body markings and pigmentation patterns. No need for us to mark or tag individuals, since they come with their own personal or individualistic markings. By examining and photographing the dorsal fin and the ventral tail pattern, we can identify over 2,500 humpbacks in our Gulf of Maine population.
Not every animal is seen each season and unfortunately many have died from natural and man-made causes. But this population of humpback whales is one of the most well understood of any in the world.
We want to thank Captain John Boats for their help and support in collecting sighting data and photo-identificaiton information when offshore. This information is vital to our continued understanding of these very endangered marine mammals. Nice to know that when you join Captain John Boats offshore, you are supporting an industry, but you are also supporting research and conservation efforts in the New England area.
12 noon whale watching trip - Tammy
Trip canceled due to inclement weather.
12 noon whale watching trip - Leah
Today's trip proved to be quite unique. Instead of having multiple of a single species we had individuals of lot's of unique species. We started our trip with an Ocean Sunfish that was rather large but we didn't spend much time with it due to wanting to see the whales in the distance. After that we had a quick look at a sneaky basking shark, that spent it's time right under the water and due to the swell it was hard to get a clear photo of it.
Then we moved on and found a finback whale that was giving us great looks on either side of the boat. This whale crossed under the bow of our boat and I was able to get an amazing sequence of photos watching this animal dive once it crossed.
Finally to top off the trip we had a humpback whale that was determined to not let me see its tail, so I'm not exactly sure of the ID.