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Naturalist Notebook – September 28 to October 04

*     The area northeast of the southwest corner has recently become dubbed Minkeville.  That is due to the continued presence of anywhere between half a dozen and two dozen minke whales.  That was where the whalewatching began on the morning of September 28.  It began there and then moved a little further with the sighting of a spout.   The spout repeated itself several times before it was followed by the raised flukes of a humpback whale.  Peninsula, the 1985 calf of Silver, then became the focus of whalewatching for the rest of the day.

*     The viewing of these two different species of baleen whales on a trip allows a nice basis for comparison.  The minke whale is the smallest of the baleen whales common around the waters of Cape Cod.  Humpbacks are a more moderate size as mysticetes go.   Also, while humpbacks are built like american footballs, minkes are streamlined just like finwhales.  These differences in shape probably resulted in the differences in feeding techniques and strategies.

*     By September 29, Peninsula had moved on but Minkeville  was just as crowded and exciting as it has been for the past couple of weeks.  Three whalewatch trips went to the location and were rewarded by being nearly surrounded by minke whales that, at times, appeared to be lunge feeding just beneath or even at the surface.  At one point, one of these animals rolled over and was seen swimming upside down just beneath the surface.  If you had looked closely, you could have seen the rorqual grooves on the underside of this whale.

*     The passengers aboard the only trip to leave Provincetown on September 30 got their quick looks at a couple of minke whales and were fortunate enough to see a finback whale, the second largest animal ever to have lived on earth. There were also great looks at an ocean sunfish.  Typically in the local waters, sunfish are part of the zooplankton in that they are pushed around by the currents far more than they move under their own power.   However, in warmer climates, they are very powerful swimmers.  Lacking a tail, they swim by moving their dorsal and anal fins in much the same way as a bird flaps its wings.

*     Stretching from Race Point out over the open water (in the direction dictated by the tide) is the Race Point Rip, the convergence of the currents of the North Atlantic and those of Cape Cod Bay.  Many times, due to the upwelling created by the colliding currents, this can be a very productive place to find bluefish, and stripers, and seabirds, and various kinds of whales.

*     This is where the whalewatches of October 01 found a finback whale.  Thought to be a female named Pinch that was first sighted in 2007 and brought her first calf to these waters the following year, she has been photographed nearly every year since.  Finwhales are identified as individuals by photographing their dorsal fins and the blaze and chevron on their right sides, as well as, any other markings (scars or otherwise) on their bodies.

*     One of the two whalewatches on October 02 went to Minkeville and enjoyed sightings of eight minke whales feeding beneath the surface in a tight group.  As the trip went on, this group dispersed slowly, working farther apart as the school of fish they were working was consumed and dispersed.

*     The other trip today went to the west in search of a humpback that had been reported by another vessel.  The passengers of this vessel enjoyed looks at that humpback as it surfaced and took a quick breath before diving again.  Though it didn’t spend much time beneath the surface, it didn’t really spend much time at the surface either.   Except for when it was lobtailing.  Several times, it lifted its flukes out of the water and slammed them down onto the surface, creating a huge splash.  Maybe a way it had chosen to communicate with another unseen whale, or a way to knock dead skin and parasites off of its body, or possibly a way it was using to move partially digested food material through its digestive tract.  Nobody can say for sure.

*     East of the southwest corner is one of the places that the larger number of minke whales has been sliding over the past two weeks.   That is where they were found on October 03.  More than a half dozen minke whales were spotted there by the whalewatch trips today.  The flat seas and bright sunshine made it easy to view the length of the minkes’ bodies as they swam just beneath the surface.

*     A finwhale was also sighted today, just off of Race Point.  This female was first sighted in 2007 and has been seen every year since.  Pinch is her name.

*     The trips on October 04 returned to “Minkeville.”  Almost a dozen of these baleen whales were spotted by each of the whalewatches today.  Today, they appeared to be actively involved in making their living.   A number of times, they were seen lunging at the surface, a sure indicator that they were feeding.  Minke whales, like the other species of rorquals, feed mostly on small schooling fish, like sand eels.  The ocean sunfish that were seen today, however, feed on ctenophores, commonly called comb jellies.  They were also very evident on the bank today.   A cloud of these jellyfish-like creatures surrounded one of the Mola mola’s on today’s trip.