Saturday, October 8, 2011
12 noon whale watch - Krill
We headed offshore after not being able to whale watch for the past few days. The winds were too high on Wednesday and Thursday making the seas too rough for whale watching offshore. On today's trip, we still had a good swell from the northeast, but the winds were light and variable and we assumed the swell height would drop as the day continued.
We saw quite a few seabirds and sea ducks offshore. We got excellent views of greater shearwaters as well as Northern gannets. We also saw a large flock of common eiders moving through the area. Seabirds often feed on the same prey as large baleen whales, so seeing these birds offshore was a good omen or sign.
We headed to the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank for we head via the VHF radio that there were a few whales in that area. Once we arrived on the corner, we saw two fins flopping up and down in the water. Ocean Sunfish! We moved over to these animals and our captain, Capt. Russ Burgess, got us some amazing looks at these fish. In fact, these were probably the best looks at ocean sunfish that I have had all season.
One fish was larger than the other, but they seemed to be associating with one another. They didn't appear to be feeding, rather enjoying the beautiful day and calm seas offshore. Our passengers loved seeing these two fish right next to the boat. Soon our ocean sunfish should start heading south to more tropical waters. But for now, we are very glad to see them offshore.
As we moved away from the ocean sunfish, we picked up a pair of humpback whales. Low and behold we found Salt and Rattan traveling together. As many of our passengers already knew, Salt it the most famous and most photographed humpback whale in our waters.
Salt was first seen in 1976 and she was the first humpback to get a name. She was named "Salt" for the extensive white scarring on the top of her dorsal fin. That scarring hasn't changed over the 30+ years we have had the honor of watching her offshore.
Salt has been observed in the Gulf of Maine each spring, summer and fall by some researcher. Some years like this season, she is seen on her own. Others season she has a calf by her side. Salt has returned with 12 calves over the years and last season, Salt was seen with her 12th calf, a whale named Zelle.
Rattan was first seen in 2002 and she had a calf in 2009. Perhaps these mom's were hanging together and chatting about their previous calves. Unfortunately, we will never know what these two females were discussing, but it did seem as if they were just taking it easy with calm seas and warm air temperatures.
There was a third humpback whale in the area and as we approached, it started flipper slapping. This whale fluked out very high as it headed toward our boat. At first we thought this humpback might be a whale named Jabiru for it had a white tail with a black core. We finally were able to get a look at its ventral tail pattern and realized that this was a humpback whale named Downsweep.
Although Downsweep remained in the same general area as Salt and Rattan, these animals never joined together. We find these associations with humpback whales so very interesting, but determining the whats and whys of their actions are often difficult if not impossible.
As we headed home, our captain spotted another large whale off our bow. This turned out to be a finback whale that was feeding deep. What was amazing about this finback was that it lifted its tail out of the water as it fluked out. Finback whales typically do not lift their tails out of the water as they head down for a deeper dive. What a treat for all of us onboard the boat today!
We also had a minke whale in the same area as the finback whale, but time did not allow us to check it out. Also offshore were lots of great seabirds including greater shearwaters, sooty shearwaters, manx shearwaters, Northern gannets, Northern fulmars and common eider. A great day offshore and a great start to our Columbus Day weekend.
12 noon whale watch - Tammy
Trip canceled due to inclement weather offshore.
12 noon whale watch - Leah
Trip canceled due to inclement weather offshore.
12 noon whale watch - Sue
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
We headed offshore and found a single finback whale on the middle part of Stellwagen Bank. This finback was feeding in the area along with at least 3 minke whales. All of the feeding was deep as the whales were surfacing in circular movements. Hard to say what they were feeding on, but we assume that both species of baleen whales were feeding on small schooling fish.
One of the minke whales had a very unusual dorsal fin. This fin had cuts in the trailing edge, cuts that were probably due to some type of interaction with gear. No worse for the wear though. This animal was feeding just fine and looked very healthy.
One of the minke whales was producing a blow or spout whenever it would surface to breath. This is unusual for minke whales typically do not produce a visible blow when they return to the surface to breath. But wild animals consistently break all our rules and theories about what they do or should do. Thanks goodness!
As we watched the finback surface off the side of our vessel, a number of our passengers commented on the animal's large size. Finbacks are the second largest mammal on the planet. The only animal larger in size is the majestic blue whale, also a baleen species. And finbacks are one of the fastest whales offshore for they can attain speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
The finback was staying down for at least 8 - 10 minutes. As we held position waiting for the animal to return from a long dive, we were distracted by the minke whales that were surfacing all around the boat. And then, before you knew it, the finback was nowhere to be seen.
It is still amazing to me that in this technological era, we still find whales the old fashioned way, that is, we look for them. As we head offshore, we don't use any electronics to find the whales, only our eyes and a good pair of binoculars. We look for a sign of a whale's presence as we move through an area.
As we scan the horizon, we look for the breath of the whale, also called the blow or spout. We look for the animal on the surface, so we look for something big and dark. And we keep an sharp eye out for any type of splashing at the surface. Splashing could indicate dolphins traveling at the surface or aggressive feeding at the surface by large baleen whales.
And what is more amazing to me is the fact that today, when the visibility was excellent and the seas were low, we lost the finback whale that was feeding above the bank. How does one lose track of a 70 foot finback whale that must weigh close to 30 tons? It boggles the mind, but it is not uncommon. We even had another whale watching boat move into the area and they could not pick up this whale.
And so we headed south and east towards the backside of the Cape. Our captain, Capt. Russ, spotted a balloon at the water's surface. We decided to pick it up since balloons and other marine debris is deadly to even the largest of the whale's offshore. So our wonderful crew members, Rich and Ron, skillfully and quickly plucked the balloon out of the water allowing us to be on our way in no time at all.
As we moved along the shores of Race Point, one of our passengers spotted a blow just off our starboard side. As we turned to investigate, the animal surfaced and to our amazement we realized that this was a North Atlantic right whale.
Right whales are the most endangered baleen whale that feeds in our waters. Although they are in Cape Cod Bay and off Race Point primarily in the spring, a few individuals remain or move through these areas at other times of the year. This whale seemed to have a destination in mind as it was heading towards Stellwagen Bank. And as it fluked out, we slowly moved away for we were following Federal regulations regarding this very endangered species. For right whales, all vessels must move away from observed animals and maintain a distance of 500 yards. We decided to just keep moving as our time was running out for our whale watch today.
We even moved past a dead bird that was floating at the water's surface. Our hearts sank as we watched this carcass off the starboard side of the boat. The carcass looked like a gull, possibly a great black backed gull, but it was difficult to tell given the fact that the bird as belly side up. But how sad to see this animal dead at the surface.
We rounded Race Point we were treated to incredible seabird sightings as many species were feeding in the rich waters of the Race rip. We had great looks at greater shearwaters, manx shearwaters, and Northern Fulmars. Fulmars are one of my favorite birds offshore, but they are not a species that we see on a regular basis. We also had a great view of a flock of common eiders moving towards Race Point. Many were juvenile males, and even though they lacked the striking black & white plumage, their distinctive, chunky eider beak gave their identify away.
We also had great looks at Race Point Light and the Keepers House. Race Point Light is the first of 3 lighthouses that leads you into Provincetown Harbor. As we moved past these structures, the Pilgrim Monument came into view just behind the lighthouse. What a view!
There were also many fishing boats in this area and scattered across the mouth of Cape Cod Bay. The larger vessels were commercial draggers and they were fishing for deep water species like cod and haddock. The smaller vessels were fishing for giant bluefin tuna.
We also had a Coast Guard cutter offshore. Not sure what the Coast Guard was doing offshore, but we marveled at the vessel and her speed. Look for the orange stripe on the bow of any vessel. This is a tell-tale sign that you are looking at a Coast Guard vessel.
All in all a great day offshore. We were able to observe lots of different marine species including whales and seabirds. And great views of Race Point as well. We are loving it offshore this fall!