* The usual suspects were to be found on the Southwest Corner of Stellwagen Bank on September 12. There were Milkweed and Perseid and their calves. Pele was also sighted, again with Pepper and Bayou. In the afternoon, there were also spouts out to the east. When the Dolphin X went to investigate, the passengers and crew were treated to an ecological feast. Half a dozen finback whales and twice as many minkes were moving among numerous small balls of schooling fish. These fish had also attracted the attention of large numbers of gannets and shearwaters. And that of a dozen and a half humpback whales. These were occasionally breaking the surface with mouths open, indicating, as you might expect, a great deal of feeding.
* And, toward the end of the day, the passengers of the Dolphin IX were treated to Echo and her calf playing duelling breaches.
* It wasn’t all good times today, though. This photograph was taken today of a leatherback turtle entangled in fishing gear.
* Imagine a forty-five foot animal swimming less than a hundred feet from the side of the boat you are on. Now, imagine that it is not alone. That there are two others swimming alongside it. Those were the kind of views that were enjoyed by whalewatchers on September 13. They were the kind of looks that allow whale enthusiasts to get an incredibly good look at the features of a humpback whale. From the splashguard on the top of the animal’s head to the smaller tubercles where the thick hairs extend, today was one on which the details of the animals could be seen and compared.
* In this photograph, notice not only the tubercles, but also the scuffing on the right side of the whale’s jaws. This animal tends to roll with its right side down when it is feeding on the bottom. Also, if you look closely at the area below the line where the two jaws come together, you can see the outer folds of the rorqual grooves as well as the mound where the right eye is located.
* High winds and rough seas kept the vessels of the Dolphin Fleet safely secured in the harbor on September 14.
* September 15 again featured sightings of three species of baleen whales. Numerous minke whales and finback whale or two set the stage for encounters with a dozen or so humpback whales, including a female named Nile and her calf of this year. This pair treated the passengers of the Dolphin IX to a display of fllipperslapping and lobtailling while they were close to the vessel. At one point, the calf even began to spyhop.
* Later in the afternoon, Nile’s calf was one of the two that was spending some time playing at the surface and making mock bubble clouds and experimenting with kick-feeding techniques while their mothers rested at the surface.
* And a big old friend named Pepper suprised a number of passengers with this.
* And this.
* The Southwest Corner of Stellwagen was hopping with humpbacks on September 16. Just shy of two dozen humpback whales were sighted moving around quite randomly and, possibly, feeding beneath the surface.
* The highlight of the day was surely the sightings of a pod of common dolphins. There was a time when common dolphins were sighted here far more frequently than the atlantic white-sided dolphins that have been more common here for the past twenty years or so. Last season, and again this season, sightings of the two species are far more close to even. The reasons for the shift in sighting frequency occuring now, and that of more than two decades ago, are not understood. Regardless of the reasons, the last two seasons have been wonderful for pointing out the differences between the two species.
* The first and the last photo are of common dolphins. The first was taken from the Dolphin X today and the latter is from August of this year. They show the hourglass shading on the sides of the commons that identify them as common dolphins. The photo in the middle is of white-sided dolphins and nicely shows the pattern of white and tan coloration that makes these animals easy to identify in the field.
* Humpback whales continued to be plentiful in the nearby waters on September 17, spread out to the east of the southwest corner. They included two mother and calf pairs, Perseid and Nile and their youngsters. The bright sky and flat waters made views of these animals exceptional today, especially the looks at the calves, which were seen logging and nursing.
* One of the day’s highlights was the unique opportunity of seeing hundreds of ctenophors through the calm waters and backlit by the reflection of the light off of the white flippers of the humpbacks. The other was the unexpected breach from Perseid and her calf.
* Many of the same humpback whales were seen on September 18. Pele, Pepper, Echo and her calf, Perseid and her calf, Milkweed and her calf, Tear, and Pitcher were among the humpbacks identified today. The naturalists agree that the best looks were offered by the calves that became increasingly active as the day went on. Spyhopping and flippering and breaching were all enjoyed by the passengers and crews today.
* Can you identify these humpbacks?
* The fifth of September began with bright skies and southwest winds that grew as the day went on. It took a while to get to the whale sightings today, but when the boats got there, there were four mother and calf pairs and over 20 humpback whales in the immediate area. The adults were feeding through bubble nets and bubble clouds, making it a bad day to be a sand eel.
* Finback whales and minke whales were also seen today. One of the vessels reported seeing a minke breacing in the distance. Another of the boats was much closer, reporting beautiful views of the incident.
* The next day, September 06, the southwest winds continued to grow. The seas, of course, followed suit, creating white caps and a bit of a chop. What was reported to be a big minke whale was observed making a linear track at a speed of nearly thirteen knots. Minkes using the nearby waters are thought to be juveniles mostly, being twenty to twenty-five feet. Adult minkes can be nearly thrity or thirty-five feet. Epsom, Salt’s calf, spent some time resting near the surface while its mother and Pele spent a deal of time deep beneath the surface, likely feeding.
* Epsom, Salt’s calf of this year, spent a great deal of September 07 being very curious about the whalewatch vessels. When mom is feeding beneath the surface and the calf has nothing better to do, it has time to check out the new things in its world. Like whalewatch boats. Numerous trips today report that this animal had time to check the boat out. Of course, this is the most exciting way for whalewatchers to get acquainted with a humpback whale. The animal spends time moving back and forth beneath the boat, surfacing on either side and allowing close and detailled looks at the anatomy of a whale.
* Another Kemp’s Ridleys Sea Turtle was seen on September 08. This one was swimming out near the whales and approached very near the Dolphin X for a few minutes. For naturalist, Dennis Minsky, this was a first sighting. Myself, I remain jealous, as I have yet to encounter one of these turtles.
* There was a strong wind from the northeast that put a big chop on the seas. These did not prevent the sighting of a half a dozen humpback whales and a finback whale. Perseid was seen with her calf and so was Echo with hers.
* The wind came around to the southeast and the swell rose to 3 or 4 feet for September 09. Today, however, two to three dozen humpback whales were found feeding among hundreds of shearwaters. Single humpback whales, as well as pairs and triplets, were seen blowing bubble clouds, kick feeding, blowing intricate nets of bubbles, lunging through the surface, and dragging. An exciting day to be a whalewatch naturalist! And a spyhop from Perseid’s calf made the day complete.
* Even though September 10 was windy and bumpy, it was a day for feeding humpback whales. A large group of ten or maybe even twenty were found kickfeeding and lunging near the surface. It was a more-than-memorable event for all of the passengers that were lucky enough to experience it.
* And, as fantastic as the whales were today, what stands out most in the reports is the sighting of a leatherback turtle that was entangled in fishing gear.
* Fortunately, the RV Ibis was already on the water when this turtle was reported to it. Hopefully, they were able to release the animal from the lobster gear it had gotten itself entangled in.
* Humpback whales were the story of the day on September 11. Mother and calf pairs were observed breaching and rolling and flipper-slapping. Adult humpbacks were seen feeding on large schools of small fish just beneath the surface. Between one and two dozen of the animals were seen on today’s adventures. At one point, one of the calves was seen blowing bubbles beneath the surface in much the same way as an adult would when it was feeding.
* August 29 was a bit bouncy. In the bay, things were calm, but at sea, the sea swelled to rather large rolling swells that made the trips rather more fun for the hearty. During this kind of adventure, Ventisca and her calf of this year spent time getting close looks at a number of the whalewatch boats, to the great dellight of both crew and passengers. This calf would have been born over the past winter in the warmer waters of the Carribean and, even by now, would have gained considerable weight. A ton to a ton and a half at birth, it has been gaining weight at a rate of nearly a hundred pounds a day, feeding on whale milk. At eight to ten times the fat content of whole milk, whale milk is extremely nourishing, allowing a humpback calf to grow quite quickly. It helps, of course, that the calf is drinking fifty to seventy-five gallons of this milk each day. Think about that for just a moment. How long does a gallon of milk last in your refridgerator? I buy it by the quart. Fifty gallons is a lot. It is three and a half tanks of gas for most vehicles. That’s a lot of milk. It really is no wonder that a humpback whale calf will double its size in the first year.
* The other thing to note about the events of August 29 is that, while most people in their small boats are respectful about the safety of the animals they are looking at, some of them are just well complete morons. Alas, the name of the vessel was not included in the report sent to me (and that is not meant to mean that the name of that vessel has not been sent to the authorities). In any event, this small craft completely disregarded the safety of the endangered species they were viewing. I would like to take just a moment to remind the boaters of the east coast that the whalewatching industry operates within guidelines based on both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Violation of these laws could result in the loss of your boat, a huge fine, and, if it is prosecuted right, jail time. I am not, in any way, saying that you should not feel free to go look at whales in your boat. If you do, I would only ask that you look into what the guidelines are and try your best to follow them. With small boats, it is not just about the safety of the whales, but also about damage to your craft. If you hit a whale, it is not just going to hurt the whale. Just something to keep in mind.
* Ventisca’s calf was also the big news of August 30. Several trips reported, not just close views of the calf, but views where the calf was curious about the vessel, spyhopping and rolling alongside the boat. One vessel even reported multiple breaches by this animal. Numerous types of breaches were seen. Tail breaches, where the flukes are thrown out of the water; chin breaches, where the the whale lifts and, then, slaps its chin on the water; and full breaches, where the animal launches its body out of the water completely. Examples of each follow.
* August 31 was mostly about feeding whales. Humpbacks, like Rune, were seen repeatedly blowing nets of bubbles and lunging through them, mouths open, to take in huge numbers of small fish. This is how they make their living, feeding on huge numbers of small fish. The highlight of the day was probably the breaching minke whale. Humpback whales are far more prone to breach, but when a minke breaches, it looks very much like a missile that is fired from a submarine and just runs out of fuel, falling back to the surface.
* The fog was thick on the morning of September 01. As it lifted, throughout the day, three species of baleen whale were spotted. Long-diving finback whales where waited on. Realistically, when whales are referred to as long-diving, it generally means they spend ten or more minutes beneath the surface. However, with whales like finbacks, dives of more than forty minutes have been recorded. And with sperm whales, dives of over 2 hours are not uncommon.
* As the day turned from fog to haze in the afternoon, Venom and her calf, and Nile and hers, became the highlights of the day. Close looks at both of these mother and calf pairs made the afternoon an incredibly pleasant and educational experience for the passengers of numerous Dolphin Fleet trips, allowing wonderful looks at the shape and size and proportions of humpback whale calves.
* It was foggy again on September 02, but, today, the fog lifted early, allowing views of several humpback whales, including 2 mother and calf pairs. While Ganesh appeared to be feeding deep beneath the surface, her calf was seen tail-breaching. Nile’s calf was also seen tail-breaching and, in the afternoon, her mother joined her for a splendid display of humpback grace and strength.
* September 03 was an absolutely beautiful day with light winds from the northwest and clear skies. Great looks at as many as four finback whales were enjoyed as they circle fed beneath the surface at Peaked Hill Bars. Salt and her 2014 calf, Epsom, were also spotted. As were nearly 2000 shearwaters of all four of the species common here at this time. In addition, there was the first influx of the autumn gannets. Minke whales were also seen in numbers.
* The sky of September 04 was clear, beautiful, and blue. Good looks were had at nearly a dozen minke whales, half a dozen finners, and almost a dozen humpback whales. The highlight of the day would have to have been the sighting of a Kemps Ridleys Sea Turtle. John, the naturalist reporting the presence of the turtle, has been on more than 7500 trips from Provincetown and this is the first time he has seen one of these very vell adapted reptiles. You can imagine his enthusiasm as he wrote his report. I, myself, have never seen one and am quite jealous.