On May 11, the first sightings of the afternoon whale watch on the Dolphin IX were harbor seals on the exposed sand at Long Point, surrounded by eiders and cormorants. On the steam north of Cape Cod, a single humpback whale was spotted throwing its massive body clear of the water’s surface in a series of spectacular breaches.
Identified as Blackbird, this whale was first seen in 2009 but is of unknown age or sex. This display continued, thrilling passengers while northern gannets, laughing gulls, and terns flew overhead. The next day, May 12, was equally exciting, as over a dozen humpbacks were seen around the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank, feeding amid clouds and nets of bubbles and nearly 100 Atlantic white-sided dolphins.
The feeding frenzy continued nearer to shore on May 13. Among the humpbacks identified were Strike and Palette, both 24-year old females, recognizable by their unique fluke patterns as they dove between bouts of bubble net feeding.
Palette is one of very few humpbacks that are observed smashing the water’s surface with their chins in a manner similar to kick-feeding, likely using the impact to stun their prey or create a disturbance in the water to retain it at the surface.
The following day, May 14, nearly 20 humpbacks were sighted around the southern edge of Stellwagen Bank, feeding among minke whales and Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Passengers were treated to rare close looks at the minke whales, one of which rolled and exposed its pale underbelly as it sped by.
A lone seal swam nearby, seemingly nonplussed by the presence of the boat, slowly rolling onto its back as if to bask in the sun.
The seemingly lazy behavior of the seal was in sharp contrast to the acrobatic leaps of the dolphins nearby, delighting passengers aboard the Dolphin IX.
Many individual humpbacks were identified in the field; for a complete list see our sightings blog. On May 15, the trend would continue, with two mother-calf pairs identified during the morning trip. Pogo, first seen in 1997, was accompanied by her second documented calf, while Apex was seen with what may be her 11th calf.
Pogo and her calf were seen again during a windy afternoon trip, delighting passengers and crew as they exhibited a series of active behaviors, including lobtailing, tail breaches, and flippering.
Even more humpbacks were spotted on May 16, as nearly two dozen were seen feeding around the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank, along with minke whales and Atlantic white-sided dolphins. At least two mother-calf pairs were spotted, and many of the whales were seen kick-feeding and using bubble clouds and nets in groups of 5 or more.
Large numbers of birds were seen overhead, including northern gannets, roseate terns, loons, and a parasitic jaeger. By the time the day drew to a close, a total of four trips had left Provincetown Harbor as the Dolphin X made her first trips of the season, and each trip had been more exciting than the last. May 17 began with another feeding frenzy observed on the southern edge of Stellwagen Bank, with at least 30 humpbacks seen on some of the four trips, including a few large groups of 4 or more feeding together on what appeared to be dense schools of sand lance.
A bright cold spring day was perfect for watching the second-largest animal in the world in the form of the massive fin whales seen off Cape Cod on May 4. The huge whales, including an individual known as Loon, appeared to be feeding just beneath the surface.
Plankton tows indicated dense concentrations of copepods, however no planktivorous right or sei whales were spotted. Several harbor seals were also seen. May 5 brought similar conditions, but a slightly greater diversity of species, including minke and humpback whales, harbor porpoise, harbor seals, and phenomenal views of fin whales.
Dense fog to the northeast meant that the best sighting conditions on May 6 were near shore, where a pair of fin whales and a minke whale were spotted.
The fin whale known as Loon delighted passengers and crew alike, gliding past the Dolphin IX in calm water that allowed great views of the massive animal beneath the surface.
On May 7, the fog had lifted and the Dolphin IX steamed up to the southern edge of Stellwagen Bank, where at least a dozen feeding humpback whales were spotted.
While the feeding humpbacks stole the show, an unusual scene unfolded overhead as a number of herring gulls appeared to be harassing a small hawk or other raptor.
It was a great day for birders as well as whale watchers, as common loons, sooty shearwaters, and common and roseate terns were also among the species spotted. Many familiar humpback flukes were spotted – for a full list of individuals identified, see our sightings blog.
On May 8, amid rain showers, eager whale-watchers were treated to another feeding frenzy on the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank as nearly 15 humpbacks used clouds of bubbles to drive their prey to the surface before engulfing it with their massive jaws.
Another great day transpired for birders, as glaucous and Bonaparte’s gulls were among those around the feeding humpbacks. Other birds seen included parasitic jaegers, common terns, common loons, and razorbills. On May 9, morning sighting conditions were not ideal, but thick fog did not dampen the enthusiasm of the Dolphin IX crew as they steamed up to Stellwagen Bank. As the fog lifted, nearly 30 feeding humpbacks were spotted, and a wide array of feeding behaviors were observed, from bubble clouds and nets to kick feeding and surface lunges.
The morning of May 10 began with a sighting of the humpback whale known as Northstar, an animal of unknown sex and age first seen in 2008, waving its massive flippers just off Race Point, as if beckoning the whale watchers to come offshore.
However, the highlight of the day would again be the large number of feeding humpbacks spotted on Stellwagen Bank as the morning fog lifted. A humpback mother and calf were spotted, along with nearly 50 Atlantic white-sided dolphins. In the afternoon, everyone aboard the Dolphin IX was thrilled to see Salt, arguably the most well-known wild whale in the world, easily recognized by even the most novice naturalists by her distinctive dorsal fin and fluke patterns.
The first North Atlantic humpback to be named and cataloged, she has been seen in the Gulf of Maine consistently since 1975, and has given birth to at least 12 calves.
On April 27, the seas were flat and calm, the weather was warm, and breaching right whales could be seen in the distance as the Dolphin IX headed out for the first trip of the day. Birders were treated to the sight of razorbills flying by, and all were excited to see a trio of humpback whales feeding, releasing clouds of bubbles beneath thick schools of jumping fish. The trio, identified as Nile, Measles, and Evolution, was spotted again during the next trip, along with about a dozen harbor porpoises and minke and fin whales, before all enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
The beautiful conditions continued on April 28, as did the feeding by Nile, Measles, and Evolution. Today the trio was seen lunging at the surface, mouths engulfing massive volumes of water and fish. Several other species were encountered, including the individually identifiable fin whale known as “Loon” for the unique marking on its flank.
As is typical of this time of year, the numbers of right whales seen feeding in the distance had dwindled to just a few by April 29. However, a zooplankton sample taken off Provincetown was so dense a spoon could be left to stand in it – perhaps the plankton was even richer elsewhere, where ever the right and sei whales seen earlier in the month have gone. East of Cape Cod, over a dozen humpback whales were feeding, including Putter, Mira, Circus, Tunguska, Bounce, Thicket, Ventisca, and Evolution.
Mira, an adult male first seen in 2003, was feeding in an unusual manner, smacking his chin on the surface much as other humpbacks thrash the water with their tails, likely to stun prey before engulfing it. Over fifty Atlantic white-sided dolphins and around a dozen harbor porpoise were spotted, as well as fin and minke whales and several harbor seals.
The previous day’s dense plankton samples were a harbinger of the large number of feeding right whales in Cape Cod Bay on April 30. The crew of the Dolphin IX skirted safely around the right whales, maintaining the 500-yeard distance required by law, and found the trio of humpbacks Nile, Measles, and Evolution slowly lunging beneath the calm surface with mouths full of water and food in between surfacings.
A feeding fin whale was also seen, along with gray seals and several harbor porpoise. A light easterly wind did little to change things on May 1, with over a dozen right whales again seen skim feeding on dense ribbons of zooplankton visible at the surface in Cape Cod Bay.
A short net tow from the Dolphin IX revealed a thick soup of copepods along with gelatinous organisms called ctenophores, their iridescent hair-like cilia glistening in the sun. Nearby, humpbacks Nile, Measles and Evolution were again seen feeding at the surface, blowing bubbles and lunging in pursuit of what appeared to be small herring.
Northern gannets were among the seabirds feeding in the vicinity, plunging into the water from above. On May 2, the first sightings were well inside Provincetown Harbor, as over two dozen Atlantic white-sided dolphins were spotted.
A fin whale swimming slowly at the surface and a small group of harbor porpoise were seen in Cape Cod Bay, as well as a few right whales feeding off Race Point.
Humpback whales Nile and Measles were spotted outside the Bay, and Measles thrilled passengers and crew alike as she launched her tail clear of the water in behaviors referred to as ‘tail breach’ and ‘lobtail’, displacing massive amounts of water in the thunderous splashes.
Chilly northeasterly winds on May 3 made it tougher to spot whales amid the whitecaps, but passengers left the heated cabin of the Dolphin IX to line the rails for views of fin, minke, and humpback whales, distant glimpses of right whales, and a few seals.