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Dolphin Fleet Naturalist Notebook June 13th-19th

On June 13th we sailed to Peaked Hill with bright skies, light winds and calm seas. We observed 17-19 humpback whales and identified Belly, Shark, Ventisca, Tornado, Amulet, Habernero, Trident, Scylla and Thicket. Many of the whales were putting on quit a show, as they had found a large patch of sand lance. The whales displayed a variety of feeding behaviors from kick feeding, bubble clouds, dragging, to surface lunging. Humpbacks typically reserve lung feeding for when there is an abundant supply of fish concentrated near the surface. Later in the afternoon, a whale became curious of our boat and another whale began flipper slapping.


We sailed out to Massachusetts Bay on June 14th with rain, low winds and moderate seas. We observed 12 humpback whales and one minke whale. We identified several cow/calf pairs including Staff and calf, Zeppelin and calf, Ivory and calf, Tongs and calf, Pisces and calf. Additionally we identified Cajun and Tornado.

Minke whales are the second smallest baleen whales, the pygmy right whale is the smallest. They can reach up to 28 feet in length and females are slightly larger than males. Minkes reach sexual maturity between 6 and 8 years and unlike many other baleen species that require resting time between calving, minke’s give birth every 1-2 years. Minke whales are also one of the only baleen whales that are not endangered, as they are distributed worldwide with the greatest abundance in New England (13,000 in U.S. Atlantic waters).  Although minkes are relatively common they are often difficult to spot, as they are known to be elusive as they often avoid boats. Their diet is diverse as Mikes feed on sand lance herring, capelin, cod, Pollock, salmon and mackerel and sometimes krill and copepods (zooplankton). While on Stellwagen Bank, Minke whales generally exploit sand lance populations.

Breaching Minke (side profile)

Breaching Minke (belly)

We left Provincetown harbor on June 15th with gray skies, light wind and calm seas. Whale sightings included 9 humpback whales, 2 finback whales and 1 gray seal. Many of the whales appeared to be unknowns as we were only able to identify one adult female named Dome. Today the whales appeared to be very curious of our boat as several humpbacks approached us within a few feet! They swam under and around us giving us great looks. We also had a few feeding humpbacks and a couple of active humpbacks that were breaching towards the end of the day.


It appears as though gray seals are increasing in numbers off herring cove, as we have had steady sightings of 1-8 individuals. Gray seals are very distinctive as they have a horse-like head with a broad arching snout. These seals are commonly found in temperate and subarctic habitats and prefer sandy or rocky sites for haulouts and pupping. Gray seals are typically between 6.6 feet (females) and 7.5 feet (males) and feed on a variety of schooling fish, squid and octopus. Because seals spend significant periods of time on land, they are often subject to human interaction, which can often be harmful. If you come across a haulout site, be sure to keep a distance to avoid disturbing the resting seals.

We sailed out to Stellwagen Bank on June 16th with gray skies, moderate wind and seas. We observed 9 humpback whales and 4-6 gray seals.  Several of the humpbacks were displaying active behaviors such as spinning breaches and chin breaches. We identified Flock, Freefall, Ventisca, Mostaza, Milkweed, and Fern and calf. In the late afternoon Freefall became very curious of our boat, as s/he swam around the boat for over ten minutes! Fern and calf were also giving us close looks, as Fern’s calf fearlessly approached us within a few feet. Each time the calf exhaled, its visible spout, which is a combination of vapor and seawater, traveled past the boat leaving us covered in whale breath!


Fern’s Calf

We left Provincetown harbor on June 17th with ideal whale sighting conditions—clear skies, low winds and calm seas. The day’s sightings included 18 to 12 humpback whales. Identified whales included Pumba, Ventisca, Gimlet and Salt. Salt is one of the Grand Dames of the Gulf of Maine. Salt was first sighted by Captain Aaron Avellar in 1976, shortly after the first commercial whale watch was born in New England. She was named for the white pigment on her dorsal fin, according to Captain Avellar, it looked as though someone had sprinkled salt on her. Another female whale was traveling with salt and she was named Pepper for her all black dorsal fin.  Both Salt and Pepper have been very faithful to Stellwagen Bank, in fact, Salt has returned to the same feeding ground almost every year since 1976. Salt is also very productive and has had 11 calves and her calf Thalassa has had two calves. Through researchers studies of Salt and her family, valuable information was obtained regarding humpback whale migration and breeding. Salt was photographed in the Dominican Republic off of Silver Bank during the winter of 1976. This sighting provided scientists with important information regarding the migratory route of North Atlantic humpback whales. Additionally, genetic analysis of blubber samples taken from Salt’s calves revealed that all 11 of her calves came from a different father, demonstrating that humpback whales do not mate for life. The Dolphin Fleet continues to recognize that whale watching as an important platform for humpback whale research and continues to contribute to the North Atlantic humpback whale catalogue and data base.


On June 18th we sailed out to Peaked Hill with gray skies, high winds and moderate seas.  We observed 11 to 13 individual humpback whales and 1 finback whale and identified several cow/calf pairs including Follicle and calf, Bolide and calf, Abrasion and calf, Reflection and calf, Strike and calf and Reflection and calf. We also identified single whales including Release, Tornado, Flock, Broomball and Dome. The humpbacks demonstrated a myriad of behaviors including breaching, flipper slapping, nursing, sub-surface feeding and close boat approaches.

Breaching Humpback


One June 19th we sailed into Cape Cod Bay with light showers, light wind and moderate seas. Despite the weather, we had excellent whale sightings as we observed 38-44 individual humpback whales. We identified Thread, Freefall, Fracture, Tornado, Tracer, Salt, Walrus, Tear, Ventisca and Abrasion and calf. Many of the whales were engaging in surface feeding behaviors such as kick feeding, bubble nets and surface lunges.  In some instances we had two whales feeding cooperatively, whereby the whales would make a large bubble nets to corral their prey and then surface with wide-open mouths. When surfacing, we were able to see hundreds of plates of baleen hanging down from the upper jaw of the whale’s mouth. It is impressive how every species of baleen whale has slightly different baleen that has adapted to feed on different sized prey. Because humpbacks will often feed sub-surface or deep feed towards the sea bottom, it is always exciting to experience their spectacular and diverse surface feeding strategies.

Surface Feeding Humpbacks