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Naturalist Notebook – July 06 to July 12

July 06 was a bright, beautiful day.  Nile was still in her usual place on the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank.  On our way there, the passengers of the Dolphin IX had an interaction of a more entomologic kind.  A very large dragonfly bounced its way to the back of the wheelhouse.  It remained there several minutes while the delighted passengers took photographs of the insect and then spread its wings and flew away.

A second non-cetacean sighting was also reported.  The passengers of the Dolphin X were treated to views of a blue shark.  The blue shark is found worldwide in the open ocean and might get as long as twelve feet.  While they feed predominately on schools of squid, they are also opportunistic and will devour carcasses of much larger animals.  Many years ago, the passengers of the Dolphin Fleet witnessed several of them feeding on the body of a dead minke whale.

July 07 was every bit as beautiful as the day before.  Though she wasn’t actually waiting for us, Nile was again on the southern end of the bank.  It was a day she spent feeding.  The fish finders on the boats are showing more and bigger patches of the schooling fish that are keeping her interested in the area.  These patches still consist mostly of mackerel and herring.  Sand Launce schools haven’t really been seen since the  big northwestern nearly two months ago.  That doesn’t seem to distract her from continuing to blow bubble clouds to corral those fish closer together so she can feed on them.

It was foggy on July 08. Very foggy.  At times the visibility on the bank was just 2 to 4 boat lengths.  In fact, even though she is at least thirty-five feet long, the whale watching boats lost Nile in the fog several times over the course of the afternoon.

Earlier in the day, when the sun had still been shining, Nile thrilled onlookers with numerous breaches, some of them chin-breaches and others spinning breaches.

Nile was breaching again on the morning of July 09.  That didn’t last long before her attention turned once more to food.  Today the schooling fish were herring.  At one point, they were seen trying to jump through the surface of the water to get out of the way of her surface lunge.  One was even seen escaping from her closing mouth as she began collapsing her rorqual pleats.

The Dolphin VII was also treated to a very exciting look at a minke whale.  This whale surfaced several times very close to the boat, coming up with the point of its rostrum first (as is usual) and turning to orient itself toward the boat.  It really did appear that it was curious about the vessel and wanted to approach and check us out.

July 10 was, once more, all about Nile.  For more than three weeks now this female humpback has been thrilling that passengers of the Dolphin Fleet with sightings of her engaged in the just being a humpback.  She has pursued making her living, both at the surface and at depth, and has also spent time grooming herself, the most likely reason for her occasional bouts of breaching.  She continues to be a staple of the 2013 season.

She is not alone on the bank, either.  Sightings were made today of minke and finback whales as well.

Feeding was the name of the game on July 11.  Two different species appeared to be feeding beneath the surface and coming back up while expelling the salt water from their mouths. Nile, of course, and two finback whales were seen feeding the edges of Stellwagen Bank.   One of those finwhales was a whale we have been seeing very frequently over the past several months.  Skeg was photographed in the year 2000.  The second, named Comb, has one of the longest sightings history of any of the finback whales in the population study.  First photographed in 1982, this is one of the few finwhales that is confirmed to have more than one calf.  Never seen as a calf herself, she has, in the thirty-two seasons she has been a part of the study, been observed with three calves of her own.  Those calves, as whales of known age, will help us discover the lifespan of the species.

There was also a fortunate non-cetacean sighting today.  The Dolphin VIII reported spotting a leatherback turtle just off of Herring Cove beach.  The largest of the sea turtles, leatherbacks can weigh as much as 1200 pounds.  The were given their name because their shell, rather than being hard, is tough and leathery.  More a tropical or subtropical species, you would be more likely to find them where the whales spend the winter months, but the Gulf Stream brings warm water up the coast and sometimes, with it, sea turtles.

Big seas greeted the Dolphin IX on July 12.  All told, the crew found three finback whales, but the best looks were had at the one that was spotted just outside the Race.  Fantastic looks at both sides of its body gave all who saw a very good idea of the size and proportions of this specimen of the second largest animal to ever have lived on Earth.

At one point, the finback whale that, at this time, has no name was seen making such tight turns that the tip of its flukes were seen breaking the surface of the water.

Had this whale not been heading into the big seas and strengthening wind, other whale watch boats might have followed.  Those of you that went whale watching that day and kept your stomachs in check have my admiration.