* On so many occasions, I have referred to the area around Stellwagen Bank as nothing less than a huge restaurant for large whales. August 15 was the kind of day that statement was based on. Both at depth and at the surface, three species of baleen whales spent most of the day feeding on the schooling fish that thrive there. Feeding humpback whales are always exciting, especially when they are blowing bubble clouds or columns and coming to the surface with their mouths open, like Mogul and Warrior.
* And, as exciting as bubble feeding is, there is nothing quite like sitting nearby a school of baitfish and having a humpback whale just lunge through the both school and surface with no advance warning. That was the experience of the passengers aboard the Dolphin X this morning.
* And, if just one species of lunging baleen whale wasn’t enough, today, there were also feeding finback whales and feeding minke whales.
* If you look close enough at the above photo, you can see some of the fish trying to get out of the way.
* And if all of that was not enough to get you excited about whalewatching, add this photo to the mix.
* Calves have to have something to do while their moms’ feed.
* Let’s make it even a better day. Add toothed whales, like these Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins.
* And then add an ocean sunfish or two to the mix.
* The highlight of August 16 would have had to be the dozen and a half finback whales just off of Race Point. Oh, there were the humpbacks and minkes, too, but the best viewing and the most excitement was supplied and generated by the finback whales. Huge and streamlined creatures, finbacks are incredibly fast and powerful. Today, though, their movements were slower and easier to watch.
* And there was the sighting of this breaching minke whale.
* August 17 was a beautiful, calm day. It was a beautiful, calm day with four species of whales to be seen off the coast of Cape Cod. Humpback whales, finback whales, and minke whales continued to make their liviings in the nearby waters. Today, they were joined by Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins. Most of these dolphins were spotted within the hook-shaped harbor of Provincetown, either ending trips on an unexpected sighting or setting others off on a good start.
* And then there were the blue sharks.
* Perspective is an interesting phenomenon. On many occasions, I have told passengers that the whale they are mistaking for a dolphin is actually a much larger animal. It is fairly common for minke whales to be labelled as dolphins, even though they are as much as 30 feet long and weigh eight to ten tons. Most dolphins are much smaller, being closer to ten or twelve feet long and weighing about three hundred to eight hundred pounds. But on a large boat, like the whalewatch vessels, and in a huge stretch of ocean, like the nearby Atlantic, very large animals, like minke whales, look much smaller than they really are. Usually, the advice I give to passengers is that if they are only seeing one of the animal, it likely is a minke whale.
* On one of the trips of August 18, there were so many minke whales in such a small space that the captain and naturalist thought they were coming up to a pod of dolphins. As it turned out, nearly two dozen minke whales were making their way to the west, looking very much like the movements of a pod. In the nearby waters, it is fairly uncommon to see groups of associated minkes (where they are moving in the same direction and have similar dive patterns). That might be because this area is (at least thought to be) used by juveniles rather than adults. In other places, minke whales are seen in associated groups, like the humpback whales and finback whales that are seen in social groups here. The key to learning so much about whales is simply to be in the right place at the right time.
* The afternoon trips were filled with lunge-feeding finback whales and huge balls of bait. A humpback whale named Mudskipper and her calf were seen by many of the trips, today. The calf spent many exciting minutes exploring a few of the boats, curiously. It was also seen frolicking and rolling about. And, before the day was out, it needed some nourishment of its own and was seen nursing.
* August 19 was definately about finback whales. There were humpbacks and minkes too, but the highlights of nearly all of the trips involved the finners. On several trips, finwhales (and minkes, too) were seen rolling at the surface as lunged through huge schools of fish. On one of the others, a finback whale was seen swimming upside down beneath a raft of shearwaters. One of the naturalists even reported a number of bubble blasts being blown by a finback whale. But the highlight of the day appears to be the finback whale that rolled over, swam on its back for a period of time before it lifted its flukes above the surface and dove. This is rare enough when the whale is right side up, but to fluke up when it was upside down? Well, I have never seen it. And I have easily been on more than five-thousand whalewatches in my tweny years on the Dolphin Fleet. So, to the passengers of the Dolphin VIII this afternoon, you have no idea how much I wish I had been there. I wish there had been a photograph taken to show the rest of you.
* One of the naturalists on August 20 reported that the highlight of the day was his observation of gooseneck barnacles on the side of a finback whale. He reports that it is very common in the North Pacific (the waters around Baja) for finback whales to carry goosenecks, but adds that here it is extremely rare. Because finbacks are faster and nearly always moving, the barnacles more common here are more likely to attach themselves to the slower humpback and right whales. Humpbacks even spend some of their time just laying at the surface, not moving at all, while they rest. For the barnacle larva here, they make a much easier target.
* The best photograph of the day was actually not of a cetacean, but of a shark. This blue shark was said to be “very cooperative” as it swam alongside the Dolphin X.
* Lunging finback whales and charging minke whales just could not compete with the breaching humpback whales today. Mogul and Rapier suprised and delighted passengers with full, spinning breaches and a series of chin breaches.
* This is how a number of the trips of August 21 began. Atlantic white-sided dolphins are fairly common visitors to the nearby waters. This particular pod was first encountered just outside Long Point, the entrance to Provincetown Harbor. When first sighted, the pod was estimated to be nearly four-hundred strong, but, as the day went on, the group spread out a bit.
* “A beautiful day. An abundance of [finners] and [minkes] lunge feeding next to the boat. Freckles gave us a good look at bubble feeding and Nile and [her calf] and Ventisca and [her calf] gave us close looks too.” That is what Dennis Minsky had to say about his day. He also reported an abundance of birds.
* Nancy reported that the Dolphin IX had found, not just whales, but also two ocean sunfish, moving side-by-side and with their mouths open, through ctenophores (comb jellies).
* And just one more photo to finish off the week. The following photograph is of a finback whale on its side with its pectoral flipper sticking up above the surface.
* If you had gone whalewatching from Cape Cod on August 08, you might have been lucky enough to see one or more of several things. The highlight of one trip was the nursing behavior of Nile’s 2014 calf. I have frequently commented on whales making their living here in the nearby waters, but, very often, the feeding of calves is overlooked. Nile and her calf were quite accomodating today as this mother provided nourishment to her young. This was seen on a number of the trips today. On one of the whalewatches, though, the calf suddenly stopped nursing and rolled onto its back over top of Nile. It remained there, swimming upside-down, mother and calf nearly drifting beside the boat, for several minutes until the vessel had to make way for home.
* You might also have seen lunging minke whales. Throughout the day, huge patches of schooling fish were spotted in the nearby waters, and, on some the the trips, they were being fed on by minke whales. Minkes, in the waters off of the Cape, usually feed deeper in the water column, but they do, when the bait is near the surface, sometimes lunge at the top. This naturalist whalewatched for more than fifteen years before he saw a minke whale lunging near the surface. If you saw it today, consider yourself very lucky, indeed.
* You might also have seen one of those minke whales chin-breaching. Chin-breaching is when the whale throws the front of its body out of the water and slams the underside of its head on the surface. If you have seen humback whales, in the past, you may have been lucky enough to witness this behavior. Among minke whales, this is an incredibly rare thing to witness.
* And there were close, beautiful looks at finback whales too. One of these finwhales was feeding when it was spotted by the crew of the Dolphin X. Her passengers had close-by looks at this huge creature as it broke the surface, at speed, sending sea-water and stunned schooling fish flying as it collected both water and fish in the giant cavity of its rorquals.
* And, late in the day, you might have been lucky enough to catch Nile and her calf taking the humpback version of a nap. Logging humpback whales are commonly seen in the nearby waters. With humpback youngsters, just like with our own, they seem to fight the rest until it just overtakes them.
* Humpback whales, minke whales, and finback whales were all spotted again on August 09. Some of the whalewatchers today also saw a pod of Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins.
* “Lags,” an abbreviated form of their scientific name, are slender and slightly smaller than the better known Bottlenosed Dolphin. Lags can be up to nine feet long and as much as four-hundred-fifty pounds. Their scientific name, Lagenorhynchus acutus, refers to their sharp or pointed dorsal fin. Commonly found in pods of 45 to 75, they are also seen, in the nearby waters, in superpods of nealy a thousand animals or more.
* These toothed whales appear to split their time between coastal waters and those of the open sea, probably following food sources. They feed on a number of things, including herring, hake, squid, mackerel, and bottom fish. They also may, or may not, feed on sand eels.
* Nile returned on August 10. She and her calf spent a bit of the afternoon engaged in some non-feeding behaviors. What you are seeing above is called flippering. Nile is on her back and has raised both of her pectoral flippers above the surface. Shortly, she will allow them to fall to the surface, causing a huge splash. This behavior is thought to be a way to communicate and groom. With the calf, it might also be play behavior and exercise.
* She and her calf were also seen breaching, above. For the adults, this is also thought to be communication and grooming. You can imagine the force created when a forty ton body is dropped on the surface of the ocean. If you have ever been unfortunate enough to mess up your dive from a platform and turn it into a belly-flop, you have felt a small part of that force. It surely could dislodge parasites and dead skin and such from the animals surface.
* And lobtailling. The animal lifts its flukes out of the water and slams them back down on the surface for much the same reasons, it is thought, as it flippers or breaches.
* Large numbers of minke whales and finback whales were reported by some of the trips. Both of these species built fairly different from the humpback whales. Long and streamlined, both minke and finwhales are faster than humpbacks. Both species do breach, though less frequently than the humpbacks.
* August 11 was bright and clear, a wonderful day to go to sea. A little to the east of Stellwagen Bank is the area known as the triangle. It was there that the whales; minke and finback and humpback, alike, spent the morning feeding. Reports of bubble nets and bubble clouds and bubble columns frequent the data sheets taken on today’s trips. As do reports of humpback whales breaking the surface with their mouths still open.
* As morning turned to afternoon, though, it appeared to become play time for the calves. The following photos are of Wizard’s calf of this year doing a little bit of rolling and breaching.
* And, of course, there was also an encounter with a male humpback named Thread.
* He was one of the whales seen feeding this morning and, again, this afternoon.
* August 12 was filled with sightings of minke whales, finback whales, and humpback whales. But the highlight of the day would have had to be the numberous humpback whale calves that were spotted being active at the surface. From flippering, to lobtailling, to breaching, these youngsters captured the hearts of the whalewatchers today. Yes, the mothers and other adults were feeding, making their living, as they do nearly every day, but today the calves, not quite ready to feed on their own, gave into youthful exhuberance and spent their pent-up energy freely.
* There were no trips on August 13 due to the inclement weather conditions.
* Things looked a bit better on August 14. The choppy seas created a playground for Ventisca’s calf, who spent the biggest part of the morning lobtailling and flippering and being curious about one of the boats, before it began to nurse. Both the finback whales and the humpback whales were lunging through the surface in their attempts to capture sand eels. No bubble clouds today, just lunging. And finbacks and humpbacks very close to each other. The Dolphin X reported that a finback whale lifted its flukes out of the water to take a deeper dive, quite a rarity.
* The highlight of the day would have to have been the sighting of about fifty common dolphins. Just around noon at the Race, a pod was sighted that included numerous mother and calf pairs. Pictures follow. And while you are looking at them, notice how these animals differ from the white-sides pictured earlier this week.
* There was also the sighting of a dead leatherback turtle today. Alas, just like with the living loggerhead last week, there appear to be no photographs of these animals. Both species are reptiles and, as such, need to breath air. They are both well adapted to the marine environment and can stay submerged for as much as four hours at a time. Both lay their clutches of eggs on land, usually in shallow holes on the beach. And both are endangered. The leatherback is larger and lacks the bony shell of the loggerhead. Dead or alive, the sighting of a sea turtle off of this end of the Cape is unusual. This is a leatherback that was found entangled in fishing gear in 2012.
* Pele, Eruption, and Jabiru have formed a social interaction that has already lasted for a couple of days. Social interaction among humpback whales are short-term things, lasting for as little as a few hours to as much as a few months. The trio was seen together on August 01. So little is known about the social interactions of baleen whales that, even though Pele appears to constantly in the lead, there is no way of knowing if there are any social hierarchies at play. Understanding social interactions, in fact, is one of the goals of the population study that the Dolphin Fleet has been participating in for nearly forty years.
* Weather like we had on August 02 generally separates the enthusiastic whalewatcher from the person going out on the water to cool off. Today, it was gray and raining and windy. Not ideal conditions for someone that is not interested in seeing whales. On the other hand, weather like today’s usually means there is plenty of rail space available for viewing the sightings. Of course, whales don’t care if they get wet. The rain and gray skies have no effect on the number or species of whales that are seen by the passengers. In fact, most of the weather that effects us, as inhabitants of the atmosphere, has little effect on whales, as inhabitants of the seas. It really is a very different world.
Pele, Jabiru, and Eruption remain together, but were only sighted on the one trip today.
Freckles, Eelgrass, W, and Iris were also seen today, along with Fern and Soot.
* It was a numbers day on August 03. If you are the kind of whalewatcher that measures success by the number of whales you saw, today was the day to go. One trip saw nearly two dozen finback whales and almost a dozen humpbacks. A second saw, two and a half dozen finbacks and a dozen and a half humpback whales.
And, as you can see, the kick-feeding continued throughout the day. Take notice to the dorsal fin of the whale kicking its flukes. Notice the sliced condition of the animal’s dorsal This is a whale named Fulcrum. She was hit by a boat a couple of years ago. The sliced up dorsal are the scars from her encounter.
* “Wow! So many whales.” That was what one of the naturalists that whalewatched on August 04 had to say to a fellow naturalist. Roughly fifty humpback whales were seen feeding off the coast of Cape Cod! There were also finback whales and minke whales. And gray seals. One trip even was fortunate enough to have a genuinely good look at a blue shark.
* August 05 was clearly a day blessed with Minke Whales. “As the fog lifted, they were everywhere.” Oh yes, there were humpback whales and finback whales, too, but the sight of two and a half to three dozen minkes within a mile or so radius of the boat is incredible.
* The three beautiful views of minke whales immediately above were enjoyed by whalewatch passengers on August 06.
As you can see, just as close views were had of humpback whales too. This one, a female named Dyad, was found feeding by the Dolphin X.
And this one, the 2014 calf of Glostick, launched itself from the surface, much to the delight of all aboard.
* If it would not have been for this one finback whale, August 07 would have totally been about humpbacks. Though only three were seen, the humpback whales, Nile and her 2014 calf, were completely entertaining and educational. In both respects because the calf was rolling over and tailbreaching, allowing very detailed study of humpback whale characteristics.
Then there was this finback whale. Smaller cetaceans are well known to “porpoise.” That is when they actually propel themselves out of the water while they are swimming because it is more energetically efficient to swim above the surface (through the air) then through the water. Larger whales also seek to take advantage of the air’s reduced density for the sake of speed. It just doesn’t happen nearly as often. Today, it did. A huge finback whale was found moving very guickly through the surface and the naturalist on the boat took these photos.