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Naturalist Notebook – May 25 to May 31

Strong northwest winds kept the Fleet at home on May 25 and May 26.
The winds of the past several days have finally begun to subside. Unfortunately, they do appear to have disrupted the food supply. When the wind blows the schooling fish close to shore, it concentrates because it has nowhere to go, but when it blows it off shore, it disperses. Even the minke whales and the birds have spread out from the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. That’s not to mean there were no sightings on May 27. Just outside the Race, a large finwhale named Rila was observed and,further down the backside beaches, two humpbacks and a few minkes were spotted. Dome is a female we have been watching since 1986 and Entropy is one we have been watching since 1997.
On May 28, whalewatching on the southern end of the bank was all about Wizard, a female humpback first seen, as a calf, in 1990. She was feeding beneath the surface, but close enough to it that her bubble clouds could still be seen rising to the surface. There were minke whales and gray seals about, as well, but the really good looks were of Wizard.
If May 28 was about Wizard, then May 29 was about Rapier. Born to Ase in 1989, Rapier is a female known to have several calves of her own. Today, she was kick feeding on the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. If it were not for her hooked dorsal fin, she would not be so easy to identify when she is kick feeding. Usually, when she slaps the surface with her flukes, she holds them very parallel to the surface of the water, making it difficult to photograph or even view the underside of her flukes. She holds them nearly flat over the water as she lifts them, repeatedly, to slam down on the water. Her dorsal, however, is a beautifully elongated sickle that, once you have seen it, sticks in your mind.
Bright, but somewhat hazy skies, colored the waters over the bank a living shade of green on May 30. Foraging appeared to be the job of the day, with humpback whales and finback whales and minke whales moving about nearly randomly. The gray seals, however, have begun to clump up into small groups of 2 or 3 or even 4. Early afternoon found a mother finback whale with her calf. Born over the past winter, the calf is still drinking whale milk that is between thirty-five and fifty percent milkfat. As a point of comparison, when we buy whole milk at the grocery, it is just four percent milkfat and, therefore very thin and runny compared to whale milk. Fifty to seventy-five gallons of milk is what that calf would be drinking on a daily basis. When it was born, it was probably only 12 feet long and about 3/4s of a ton, but by this time next year it will likely be 24 feet or so and weigh nearly a ton for each foot of length. And while the finback calf was feeding on whale milk, the adult whales were feeding on herring, rather than sand eels.
May 31 was warm and hazy with flat seas, rather remniscent of conditions from the summer of 1995. In the morning, a humpback named Midnight was spotted east of the bank in the triangle. She was staying down nearly 13 minutes between breaths. Back on Stellwagen Bank, things remained scattered with minke whales and finback whales on short, but rather random, dives. The same finback whale mother and calf pair that was seen yesterday was also found on the sunset trip. With any kind of luck, the scars on the mother’s body will help to identify it.