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Dolphin Fleet Naturalist Notebook – May 8-14

 

May 8 was bright with southwesterly winds. As we slowly moved through the harbor and looked to Fishermen’s Wharf on our right, a series of photographs entitled “They Also Faced the Sea” stood out against a weathered wooden backdrop. Mounted on a building at the end of the wooden wharf are five large black and white photographs of Provincetown women of Portuguese decent, a tribute to the Portuguese community and its fishing heritage.  Photographed by Norma Holt, beautiful images of Almena Segura, Eva Silva, Mary Jason, Bea Cabral and Frances Raymond represent the women of Provincetown whose families fished the waters off the cape for over 200 years.

 

They Also Faced the Sea - Cabral's Wharf
They Also Faced the Sea - Cabral's Wharf

They faced the sea in many ways as they kept their culture alive and were the backbone of this vital fishing village.

We sailed to Stellwagen Bank where we sighted nine humpback whales feeding, some kick feeding and others blowing clouds and nets of bubbles. We first watched Reflection, a mature female first sighted in 1992. She has returned with 3 calves and has a unique style of kick feeding- head first and then a kick of her tail. Also feeding were Meerkat, born to Lynx in 1992 and a mother of two, Mural, a mature female first sighted in 1982 and also a mother of two and Barb, a male born to Veil in 1987. 

May 9– no trips due to wind and rain

May 10 was bright with calm seas. We traveled east of Stellwagen Bank where we sighted a minke whale, 50-100 dolphins and 38-40 humpback whales. Most of the humpbacks were feeding in various ways – from kick feeding to lunging.

Whirligig Kick Feeding
Whirligig Kick Feeding

Whirligig, born to Pinball in 2000 was kick feeding as was Fulcrum and Nile, both mature females. Anchor, a mature female born to Olympia in 1983 and a mother of five, also was feeding in the area.  Cajun, born to Cascade in 1998 was with her second calf, a fourth generation! Thumper and Shark were kick feeding as well, both mature females. Although there were a few small, unknown juvenile humpback whales in the area, most appeared to be adults including Cosmos, born to Columbia in 1997.

Open Wide - Bubble Cloud Feeding
Open Wide - Bubble Cloud Feeding

May 11 was bright with northwesterly winds and choppy seas.  In the morning we traveled to the Triangle and sighted 22-26 humpback whales and one finback whale. We were able to identify Cosmos, Scylla’s 2008 calf, Freefall and Glostick- all feeding energetically. Plateau and Perseid were lunging across the surface and in the mix was Perseid’s second calf. Loon was kick feeding but her calf was not nearby- in fact, it was about ¼ mile away resting on the surface. By afternoon the winds and seas diminished but so did the number of whales. We sighted five humpback whales, three finback whales and 15-30 white-sided dolphins. Plateau was the only humpback that we saw in the morning watch. We identified Scratch, a mature female first sighted in 1979 and Bramble, born to Verga in 2001. On our return we saw a large harbor seal hauled out on Long Point.

May 12 was overcast with southwesterly winds.  Once again we ventured towards the Triangle where we sighted 5 to 10 humpback whales, seven finback whales and over 350 Atlantic white-sided dolphins. The whales were moving about the area with no surface indicators of feeding. The humpback whales were small, mostly juveniles and two were sighted first last year and are about to be named. Each year naming gets more difficult as we already have named over 2060 whales! They are named after natural markings and scars, primarily on the underside of the flukes. Each name is descriptive, some requiring more imagination than others. The names are not gender related. Some however, are named after scars or marks on the dorsal fin. The most famous is Salt, named in 1976 by the late Aaron Avellar, a Dolphin Fleet captain, for the white, granular ridge on her dorsal fin. And she can be recognized at a fair distance.

May 13 was bright with light winds. This morning the Portuguese Princess traveled south of the Triangle and found seven humpback whales, one finback and one minke. With the exception of Loon and her calf, all of the humpback whales were juveniles, and only one identified from last year. The minke whale was not close enough to photograph but it was a timely sighting as the Icelandic Minke Whalers Association reported that the first minke whale of the season has now been killed; the eight meter long animal was landed off Kopavogur in southwest Iceland. The minke whale was killed by a new whaling vessel, the Hrafnreyður KÓ. The Association announced that the meat “went straight to processing” and that whale meat will be on sale in restaurants and shops. Since the onset of the moratorium on whaling, several thousand minke’s have been killed in the North Atlantic and Pacific and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Barnacles on Flippers of Small Humpback
Barnacles on Flippers of Small Humpback

One of the small humpback whales approached the boat after a bout of breaching. As it began to roll and flipper we could see the gooseneck barnacles hanging from its lower jaw and flippers.

 The Dolphin VIII also ventured to the Triangle and found nine humpback whales. Again, Loon was the only large whale sighted but three of the smaller whales, including Scylla’s 08 calf approached and circled around the boat. Scylla’s calf was often swimming on its back. By afternoon the whales were traveling steadily east. Many of the same whales, including Loon and calf, were in the area. One small unknown whale approached the Princess and spent over 30 minutes swimming around and under the boat.

Loon and Her Calf
Loon and Her Calf

 

Later in the day the DVIII sighted 12 to 18 humpback whales, many of the same individuals that had been seen earlier. However the whales were on the move and not spending much time on the surface.

May 14 was overcast with light southwesterly winds. We returned to the Triangle and again saw Loon and calf and many of the small humpbacks from the day before.

Small Humpback on Close Approach
Small Humpback on Close Approach

At one point, two of the small humpbacks and Elephant, first photographed in 2007 and named in 2008, approached the boat and swam around and under for over 20 minutes. We also had our first sighting this year of Pitcher, born to Valley in 2007.  By afternoon a few more humpbacks had moved into the area but there was little sign of feeding. Although Scylla’s 08 calf blew a ring of bubbles, they were not associated with feeding. Feeding clouds may be formed as a humpback releases millions of tiny bubbles beneath the surface, often at great depth, that slowly rise to the surface. It is possible that the bubbles concentrate the prey, an anti-predator response, and hinder the fishes’ ability to escape.