Naturalist’s Notebook: September 19 to September 25
Sun 12 Oct 2014 - Filed under: Uncategorized — admin
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* A little more of the windy and cold weather for September 19. That did not prevent the Dolphin X from travelling to the SouthWest Corner for views of a dozen humpback whales. With the choppy seas, today was not a day for feeding. The humpbacks were moving into and out of large groups that changed constantly. The highlight of the day was definately that way that the calves reacted to the big seas. Several spent time tail-breaching and flipper-slapping. There were even a few breaches.TORNADO 14 CALF TB_9-19_IMG_2764
*The above is an example of how Tornado’s calf was affected by the chop.

* September 20 was also a day for watching humpback whales. The calves again were the most active of the whales, spyhopping and approaching close to the vessels. But Pele, as if not to be outdone by the young ones, breached just off the bow of the Dolphin 8. ININITY BREACH_6-30_IMG_3056

* Imagine forty tons of muscle and bone and blubber being propelled through the surface of the water and into the air by a tail more than a third the length of the animal’s body and so strong that it only took three sweeps of it to carry this bulky creature into the air. Now imagine that two of these animals are doing this together. That was the highlight of September 21.

* If September 20 was mostly about the calves, September 22 was about large adult whales being active at the surface. Tail-breaching by Pele. Lob-tailling by Pitcher. And breaching by Pepper.
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*And of course there was a little bit of feeding, like the above photo of Piano kicking her flukes above the surface to corral small fish before diving and lunging through the school.

* With a bit of turn of the weather, September 23 was bright and clear. The breeze came from the northwest and brought up a sea of about 2 or 3 feet. The humpback whales were again on Stellwagen Bank. In addition, a finback whale was spotted along Race Point Beach. This whale doesn’t have a name yet but is known as 12065. The first two digits indicate that it was first photographed in 2012. Good looks were enjoyed of both species.
* In the afternoon, the winds shifted to the southwest and a finback was also seen off of Race Point
Beach. This one was one known as Pinch. Pinch and 12065 are regularly seen during May and June but not so much at this time of the season. Also, both of these whales were part of a group of finbacks that spent a month in 2013 close to Plymouth in the mornings before moving moving to Race Point in the afternoons and then on to the southwest corner of the bank in the evenings.
* The humpbacks were spending the early part of the day logging (resting) and the afternoon feeding deep beneath the surface. Both species allowed wonderful looks.

* September 24 was an incredible day of feeding humpback whales. Truth is, I think the photos speak for themselves.
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* FEEDING HUMPBACK WHALES, FEEDING HUMPBACK WHALES, AND MORE FEEDING HUMPBACK WHALES!!
That was the story on September 25.
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* And then there was the sunfish.
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Naturalist’s Notebook: July 18 to July 24
Sat 2 Aug 2014 - Filed under: Uncategorized — admin
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* Sightings on July 18 were not just limited to humpback whales. Numerous minke whales were also observed. Minkes are the smallest of the baleen whales common to our waters, reaching lengths of 25 to 30 feet (so still large compared to anything other than baleen whales).
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* In addition, there were at least 4 finback whales sighted today. They are, of course, the second largest animals to EVER have lived on earth. Sixty, seventy, even nearly ninety feet long, finbacks are long and streamlined. Built for speed. They can achieve and maintain speeds of as much as thirty knots.
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* Encounters were also had with large fish today, including an ocean sunfish (Mola mola) and a blue shark.
BLUE SHARK_IMG_8533Mola  mola
* And, of course, the two most common species of seal to our waters; harbor seals and gray seals.
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* So the lucky passengers that whalewatched today were treated to a broad picture of what this environment should look like.

* More finback and minke whales were sighted on July 19. The highlight of the day, however, were the encounters with a humpback whale named Reaper and her calf. Born over the last winter, between December and February, this is Reaper’s fifth calf since she was first sighted in 1987. The early portions of the day were spent travelling, Reaper and the calf and a female named Dyad, but, later in the afternoon, the adults began to feed, sometimes near the surface and other times a depth. The calf could be seen rolling over and blowing bubbles, mimicking its mothers’ actions.
* Even the finbacks were, at one point, getting in on the feeding.
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* One of the finback whales sighted on July 20 was a whale named Ladders for the prominent prop scars on its side. Alas, this animal is not alone in having manmade markings. As many as forty percent of the animals in our study population show signs of being hit by vessels. Usually, prop injuries that are not fatal come from the props of smaller vessels.
prop scarsBraid
* Of course, propellars are not the only things that cause scars on large whales. Scars are also caused by boat strikes.
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* And entanglements.
Entanglement scarsEntanglement scar Eg * And even by other whales.
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* July 21 saw the first breaches of the week. The lucky passengers of the Dolphin X were treated to numerous examples of what is likely the most energetically expensive behavior in the animal kingdom. Now, all species of whales can and do breach. It is, however, the humpback whale that is the best known for the behavior. And that was the animal that seemed to be trying to break the bonds of gravity.
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* Minke whales also breach.
MINKE BREACH

A breaching minke whale

A breaching minke whale

* Right whales and finbacks have also been seen breaching in the nearby waters.

* Scylla has made her return to Stellwagen Bank. And at her side, her eleventh calf. It was the first boat out on July 22 that reported seeing the female we have been studying since the mid to late 1980’s. And the sunny, calm day was ideal for watching a calf.
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*At this point, the calf would still be drinking between fifty and seventy-five gallons of whale milk each day. Soon, however, Scylla will begin weaning her calf off of milk and onto a steady diet of small, schooling fish, like these sand eels.
SANDEELS_5-15-14_IMG_9349 *Or small euphausids, like this krill.
Krill on StellwagenCaptured krill

* Just imagine you are on a boat, five or six miles from shore, and suddenly there is this forty ton jumping high enough out of the water beside you to lift its head thirty-five feet above the surface. Now imagine it does it again. And again. And again. Now imagine that it rolls over and lifts its two very long, very flexible flippers out of the water and repeatedly slaps the surface with both of them. Imagine further that after about five or six minutes of this, the animal rolls back over, lifts its tail above the surface, and dives beneath the blue, only to start breaching once more. That was just the highlight of the 5:15 trip of the Dolphin X on July 23.

* NileERUPTION_4-16-13_IMG_1687PELE_7-18_IMG_047723-aerospace1HABENERO LOBTAILTear

* These were just some of the individual humpback whales identified on July 24 . Do you recognize any of them? They are Nile, Eruption, Pele, Aerospace, Habenero, and Tear. In all, more than a dozen and a half humpback whales were seen today, including three mother and calf pairs (Nile, Perseid, and Milkweed. The calves seemed to spend the day “frolicing along the surface w/ spyhops, shaking, rolling and lobtailling. Very cute kids today.” Nancy Scaglione-Peck.
* And that’s how another incredibly successful week of whalewatching from Provincetown came to an end. The one really great thing about working in a natural environment is that there is no telling what could happen next week.

 


Naturalist’s Notebook: July 11 to July 17
Thu 24 Jul 2014 - Filed under: Uncategorized — admin
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* This was a big week for whalewatching around Stellwagen Bank. Some forty or so humpback whales continue to make their living feeding on the small, schooling fish that seem to be quite plentiful there this season. Among the individuals sighted this week were; Ivory, Thicket, Canopy and her 2014 calf, Reaper and her 2014 calf, Bayou, Rapier, Apex, Putter, Peninsula, Samara, Pivot, Milkweed and her 2014 calf, Dyad, Cardinal, Palette, Zap, Nimbus, Pele, Eruption, Storm, Angus, Freckles, Draco, Wyomng, Echo and her 2014 calf, Tornado and her 2014 calf, Jabiru, Perseid and her 2014 calf, Pepper, Firefly, Cajun, Cygnus, Salt and Epsom, Nile and her 2014 calf, Infinity, Fern, Gunslinger, Habenero, Agassiz, Springboard, Aswan, Abrasion, Warrior, Buckshot, Monster, Etch-a-sketch and her 2014 calf, Sprinkler, Storm, Pumba, Ganesh and her 2014 calf, Jumanji, Dome, Pleats, Rocker, Rune, Baja, Centipede, Nuages, Barb, Shimmer, and Tear.

* July 11 started with a look at the Charles Morgan, under sail.

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* And, if you are not one of those impressed by boats, there were also three species of baleen whale spotted today. Several minke whales were seen today. Sleek and streamlined, these animals would have looked small from the deck of the hundred foot or so vessel in the huge amount of water they would have been seen in, however, they are quite a large animal, weighing several tons more than an african elephant. In addition, more than half a dozen finback whales were sighted. Like the minkes, they are sleek and streamlined. Unlike the minkes, they appear very large, even from the humdred foot vessels. They are, in fact, the second largest animals ever to have lived on earth. As far as humpback whales are concerned, some trips reported seeing nearly two dozen, most of which were actively feeding. The exceptions to this were almost all calves. It was a good day to see the calves. Not having to worry about looking for fish or corralling it into tighter balls, the calves have the day to just amuse themselves. Today, several of them did so by taking a good look at whalewatch boats. Several of the trips reported calves coming to the sides of the boats and spinning around and, even, spyhopping (lifting the front of the face out of the water while oriented vertically).

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* All of this, of course, was while the adults were busy feeding. Numerous feeding behaviors were enjoyed today, including the creation of bubble clouds, intricate bubble nets, and spirals of bubble columns. Also, the phenomenon called kick-feeding, where the whale comes to the surface after blowing its bubbles and slaps the surface of the water with its tail a number of times before diving back down beneath the school of fish, was often witnessed.

* The highlight of the day, though, probably was seen by the passengers of the Dolphin 9. On the boat’s evening trip, the guests and crew alike were treated to 7 or 8 breaches from a humpback calf.

calf breach_7-11_IMG_9939glostick calf breach 5-7 14 IMG_3421GLOSTICK CALF BREACH-5-29-14_IMG_8955

* July 12 was a beautiful day for whalewatching. Flat seas and a sunny, blue sky put a smile on your face before you ever got on the boat. And then, being surrounded by feeding humpback whales could only add to the joy. But today was not just about feeding. There was more unusual activity as well. For example, one of the calves seen today was observed flipper-slapping (or flippering). This is when the animal rolls onto its side and lifts its pectoral flipper out of the water and slams it back down on the surface. With adults, it is thought to play a role in communication, to be a grooming exercise, and, in the mating ground, it is a way to tire out rivals for the attention of a female. Among calves, it is more likely to be play behavior and exercise.

SAMARA FLIPPERINGFLIPPERING_8-23_IMG_5884calf flippering_7-7_IMG_9475

* Once you have eaten and exercised, then it is time to rest. With humpback whales, rest commonly comes in the form of logging, just floating along at the surface of the water allowing the lighter density of your blubber to keep you afloat while you allow one side of your brain to be shut down. This is called logging.

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* The feeding behavior of July 13 was a little subdued. What was not was the breaching of the calves. Breaching humpback whale calves were reported by almost every trip today. A breach is any time the animal throws part or all of its body up out of the water. Like the flippering of yesterday, it is thought to be exercise, play behavior, communication, and grooming.

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* And we should have another look at the Charles Morgan.

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* Or two.

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* There was a lot of movement on July 14. Large numbers of whales were reported by nearly every trip (a dozen and a half to nearly three dozen humpback whales). Most of the sightings throughout the day were of whales travelling. Early on, there was some logging, but most of the day the whales were seen moving around, likely looking for spots where the schooling fish was the thickest. In the evening, though, big groups of humpback whales were found (with a fog closing in) feeding deep beneath the surface. Beautiful, close looks were had at these animals while they were at the surface.

* Four whalewatch naturalists report a huge day of feeding on July 15. Most of the reports are of large groups of humpback whales working cooperatively and coming up through the same bubble system. Some reports say there are groups of as many as nine whales in a single bubble system.

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* ON THE BOW_7-12-14_IMG_8768

* If those photos don’t do something for you, nothing I can add will.

* Despite the rain and, at times, heavy downpours, July 16 turned out to be a fantastic day to whalewatch. If you could brave the wet conditions, you were rewarded with the array of humpback behaviors. The two mentioned most often by the naturalists on the water today were breaching and curious boat approaches. It is hard to say which of the two gives you a better look at the whale. When they breach, more of their body is above the surface and visible to the eye, but when they are curious and just surfacing on either side of the boat, they are close and they are moving slow.

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* Which do you think gives a better look?

gimlet_cba_cam2-30_16_aug_img_27741cba_21_june_cam1-28_img_0458June 10 CBA

* July 17 started as a restful day for the humpback whales around the coast of Cape Cod. But, as morning turned to afternoon, the feeding behavior began again.

open-mouth-with-fishOPEN MOUTHOpen mouth

* If a picture is worth a thousand words, I should need say no more.