Friday, April 6, 2012
12 Noon Whale Watch - Krill
We had a great day offshore and a wonderful start to our 2012 season. Winds out of the north made our ride offshore was a bit bumpy, but our spirits were high as we headed towards Stellwagen Bank and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Our destination would be the southern area of the bank or the waters just off Race Point beach since large numbers of whales have been reported in these area over the past few weeks. As we approached Race Point, we could see tall blows down the backside of the Cape and large concentrations of seabirds feeding at the surface.
As we settled into the area, we saw tall blows all around us. We were thrilled to find at least 10 to 15 endangered finback whales feeding off Race Point beach as well as a few hundred Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Most of the finbacks were feeding alone, but we did see a few small groups of 2 and 3 animals that were feeding in unison.
Some of the dolphins were feeding right alongside their larger baleen cousins, but the majority of these little toothed whales were feeding in small pods made up of 10 to 15 individuals.
It was amazing to watch the finbacks charging throughout the area and to see how easily they maneuvered around other feeding finbacks as well as the multitude of dolphins. Just by watching how forcefully each whale breathed when returning to the surface, we could tell that these animals were working hard down below.
Finbacks are the fastest baleen whales in our area and have earned the nickname the "greyhounds of the ocean." As we continued to watch these endangered whales, we wondered how you could not be in awe of such speed, power and beauty.
Feeding in this area were hundreds of adult Northern gannets, the largest of the seabirds that is common to our waters each spring. These birds are plunge divers for when feeding, they plunge straight down into the water at a height of over 30 feet.
The gannets were probably feeding on the same small bait fish as the finbacks and the dolphins. But without seeing the baitfish at the surface, or catching a glimpse of a fish in a birds beak, it is impossible to tell exactly what they were eating. Given the time of year and the location, I would guess that it was herring or sandlance.
On our way home, we came saw two blows a few miles east of Gurnet Point. As we held position for these animals, a North Atlantic right whale surfaced just off the starboard side of the boat. Right whales are the most endangered of all the large baleen whales with less than 45o individuals remaining in our waters. With so few animals remaining, the National Marine Fisheries Service requires that all vessels maintain a 500 yard distance from any right whale.
As we slowly moved out of the area to comply with these federal regulations, we saw part of the whale's right fluke come out of the water. The whale had rolled on its side as it turned to make another pass through the plankton patch. This whale was filter feeding just beneath the water's surface and we could see the fluke prints pushing up with each powerful kick of the tail.
Although it was a bit cold offshore, we had a wonderful start to our 2012 season. Can't wait to get offshore tomorrow at noon and see what Mother Nature has in store for us.