* 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.
* 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).
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* And we should have another look at the Charles Morgan.
* Or two.
* 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.
* 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.
* Which do you think gives a better look?
* 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.
* If a picture is worth a thousand words, I should need say no more.
* If you were to look back at the Naturalists’ Notebook for this week last year, you would repeatedly find mention of a humpback whales named Nile. And pretty much only Nile. Oh, there were also minke and finback whales. And there would ocassionally be a second or even a third humpback whale listed as sighted in the lower Gulf of Maine. But the story of last July was that of Nile making her living along the southern and western edges of Stellwagen Bank. Sightings of Nile are conspicuously absent this month. This week, however, has seen the sightings of more that forty other humpback whales. For a listing of those individuals, refer to the daily sightings blog.
* And, the week started with a bang! This was appropriate as it began with Independence Day. Only one trip actually got to sea on July 04. The front of hurricane Arthur brought some long swells, some gusty winds, and lots of rain. (I feel the need to point out that, as much as it is necessary and beautiful in its own way, rain is a four-letter word. Especially in that amount.) But, as I have told many a whalewatcher, the weather that effects us usually doesn’t alter the behavior of the whales.
* A dozen and a half humpback whales were found, on just this one trip, outto the north of the triangle. Feeding. Blowing a variety of bubble systems and kicking at the surface to corral the schooling fish closer together. Big, slow lunges at the surface with their mouths wide open would follow the bubbles and kicking behaviors.
* Another thing you might remember from July 04, 2013 is the sighting of Bottlenose Dolphins.
* Hurricane Arthur kept the Dolphin Fleet safely in the harbor on July 05, 2014.
* “After two days of cancelled trips due to Hurricane Arthur, we went out.” “There was a day, last week, with dozens of humpbacks, but that had changed prior to the storm. So it was with great surprise that we found dozens of humpbacks, all kickfeeding across the horizon… Overwhelmingly wonderful!”–Mark Gilmore, about his adventures aboard the Dolphin X on July 06. “There were too many humpbacks to count.”–Kathy B. From the crews, “awesome”, “stupendous”, “lovely”, and “once in a lifetime”. And these are from people who see whales every day. And these are not what they said to the passengers, these are what they said to each other and to the crews of the other boats.
* What brought all of this on? Feeding! Nearly forty humpback whales making their living on small, schooling fish. Bubble clouds. Bubble nets. Bubble columns. Kick-feeding. Mouths open wide as they slowly ascended from the deep in the middle of the surface disturbance they had created.
* Imagine you are sitting on the bow of a boat. Just a dozen feet from you, you see a little burst of bubbles turning the water green as they rise to the surface. A few seconds later, a second rises just a few feet to the right of the first. Then a third. And a fourth. And so on, making a spiral of green bubble clouds that rise to the surface. In the interim, though, as those bubbles rise up, the huge, dark body of a humpback whales also rises to the surface, spouts, arches its back and lifts its flukes (nearly 15 feet wide) above the surface and slaps the water twice right where the bubble columns are rising. Huge clouds of green bubbles are the result.
* If you are a small fish at that moment, there is now confusion everywhere. When you first saw the bubbles deep down below you, you were startled. Confused, you did what only comes natural to you. Get as close to the other fish in your school as you can. Many times in your short life, this trick has saved your life so, as the bubbles rise up around you, you just move along with the rest of the school toward the surface. You are scared and you are confused, but there is strength in numbers. As you near the surface, though, you hear this noise and suddenly the leading fish of your school is pushing back against your forward (and upward) travel. They are trying desperately to move down, while you, driven by your fear of the bubbles beneath you, are trying desperately to move up. Everybody is suddenly really close together.
* And that’s when the open mouth of the whale slips past and around you and your schoolmates, nearly unseen until the push of the water around you gives your plight away. You are in the mouth of the beast. It will consume you if you don’t get out. But the upward motion is too much for you to swim against, regardess of how hard you try.
* Suddenly, there is light. And the water is disappearing around you, leaving you dry on the tongue of a humpback whale. You have but one chance. You need to jump. You need to jump as far as you can, past the curtain of baleen plates ringing the upper jaw of the beast and out of its mouth. Only then will you be back in the water and safer than you are now.
* Millions of sand eels, herring, and mackerel have this experience every day. Most, alas, do not survive.
* July 07 was largely about feeding whales, if you were looking from the deck of a boat. Fortunately I was. This is the kind of thing I was able to watch repeatedly throughout the day. The highlight of the day was, undoubtedly, when Etch-a-sketch (feeding much like just described) was then joined by her calf. The calf, about seven months of age, is not ready to feed on fish yet, but so beautifully mimicked its mother in the kicking over the bubble system that I thought it might actually lunge through the pile of fish itself.
* In addition to all the feeding, there were a few humpbacks that felt they had time to spend otherwise. So, there was also lobtailling and flippering and even breaching. As much as it was not a one event kind of day, it was also not a one species kind of a day. Minke whales and finback whales were also enjoyed, as were the atlantic white-sided dolphins.
* There was , again, on July 08, a great deal of feeding behavior from the humpback whales. But there were also numerous sighting of mother and calf pairs. One female sighted today with a calf was Salt. Sighted today with her 13th known calf, she is also a great-grandmother this year. (Her grand-daughter, Etch-a-sketch, is also a mother.) Her calf is the only of this year’s calves to already have a name, Epsom.
* Note the cleft palate of the above feeding humpback whale. It would be hard to say what caused it. Regardless of its origin, it is the palate of Salt. She is one of very few that can be identified accurately by looking at the inside of her mouth.
* Again, on July 09, most of the whalewatch trips found themselves surrounded by feeding humpback whales. Today, the smooth surface of the water made it easier to see just how intricate the nets of bubbles blown by them were. It also made it easier to keep track of the numerous calves that, with nothing better to do while Mom is feeding, became curious about the very large objects floating at the surface of their world. Several calves were seen rolling around beside the boats and even under the bowsprit on two ocassions.
* The day also featured incredible looks at finback whales (for those of you who have not been following along, finback whales are the second largest animals to EVER have lived on earth.)
*July 10, saw a lot of the same type of feeding activity from the adult humpback whales, one trip reporting over three dozen of them. And there were frolicking calves, as well.
Minke whales were also seen. The highlight of the day would have to have been the finback whales that were feeding at the surface, taking big, fast lunges through the schools of small fish and sending up waves of water as they passed.
* June 27 was a beautiful day to be whalewatching in the western part of Cape Cod Bay. The fog and rain of yesterday morning had passed and the winds of last evening had diminished, leaving the surface of the bay with enough of a swell to remind you you were on the water but not enough to be uncomfortable. It was here, among the pleasant seas, that Measles, Mogul, and Orbit chose to spend their day using great clouds of bubbles to confuse schooling fish, possibly mackerel, into tighter balls so they could make their living on them.
* A large basking shark was also seen in the area, and a finback was spotted beyond Race Point.
* In addition to the feeding humpback whales of June 28, Bullet was seen with her new calf. Bullet’s calf would be about seven months of age, at this point. It is still nursing, as was witnessed by the passengers of the Dolphin 10, and will likely continue to do so until August or September, when Bullet finishes weaning it off of whale milk and onto a diet of small fishes. (A process known more about in theory than in observation.)
* Among the feeding humpback whales was Hancock. Today, rather than blowing the spiral of bubble columns she is known to utilize, she appeared to be blowing bubble rings. When blown deeper, the rings would be large by the time they had reached the surface and she would have already closed her mouth. However, when the rings were seen rising to the surface, still small, she would lunge close enough that her mouth would still be open when she breached the surface of the water.
* And to add to all of the excitement caused by feeding humpback whales, there was an incredible look at a finback whale named Darth.
* In this photo, you can even get a glimpse of the huge animal’s flipper, as well as a feel for how powerful that exhalation must have been. Note the still open blowholes.
* June 29 was bright and sunny and, to the relief of some passengers, CALM. Humpback whales were again seen feeding, though today, deeper beneath the surface. So for most of the day, the bubble clouds could be seen rising to the surface, followed by the whales that would take a couple of breaths and then lift their huge flukes above the surface to dive.
* Orbit, Measles, and Dome (pictured above) were among the whales seen feeding on what appeared to be huge schools of mackerel.
* By late afternoon, however, the fish had moved closer to the surface, attracting huge numbers of herring gulls and shearwaters. A few northern gannets even found their way to the area. It is hard to say whether the birds were drawn there because they had found the school of fish or because they had found the feeding humpbacks. Now, the feeding activity was at the surface: the great leviathons lunging alongside the boat with their huge mouths agape, collecting countless tinker mackerel behind their curtains of baleen before arching and returning to the depths. Then repeating the process again and again and again!
* The sky was bright on June 30, but throughout the day the wind grew, becoming more than just a stiff breeze by midafternoon. Numerous finback whales were sighted throughout the day, making their way to unknown destinations. Very close views were enjoyed of at least three very large finwhales and a single small one.
* If you went to the west-north-west, across the growing south-west winds (and the chop they created), you would have found yourself, with some luck, encountering a humpback whale that was spending some very long periods of time beneath the surface. But if you had gotten there at just the right time, you would have seen this same humpback whale breach. First, a spinning breach, almost as if to get your attention, and then repeated chin-breaches.
* Finback whales and the smaller minke whales were seen in numerous places on July 01. West of the SouthWest Corner and out to the east were several “bunches” of minkes. Finwhales were found inside the Race and down the backside. Hancock was spotted again today, blowing bubble clouds to corral schooling fish closer together. Timberline was seen not just blowing bubbles, but also kick-feeding.
* A four species day on July 02. Feeding humpback whales were joined by minke whales and surface-feeding finback whales. And, today, there were also several dozen atlantic white-sided dolphins.
* The highlight of the day was the reappearance of our friend Loon. This finback whale has a sighting history that goes back to 1980. There are one or two other finners with sighting records as long or even longer, but none of them has been sighted with the consistency of Loon. Named for this marking on the left side of its body, Loon is most frequently spotted when other whales are not close to the Cape, but is also seen when the feeding is good.
* Imagine the sound of a fog-horn. Now, imagine the air so dense, so thick, that you can barely see the bow of your boat. That was how July 03 began. Calm water, but the air nearly as thick. A faint sound is heard. From where? Listen again, it’s there. Off to the starboard. A third time. It is the spout of a whale. So you listen for it some more, peering into the haze. It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust but then you see it, the dark, long outline of a finback whale surfacing gently on the flat seas. It breathes two or three more times before the dark shape thickens as it arches and dives, removing it from view.
* As you make your way further from shore, the flat seas take on a sizeable swell. The fog has lifted a little, allowing you to see a couple of boat-lenths in any direction. That’s how you found the minke whales. A third of a dozen of them surround the boat. Without the backdrop of a huge expanse of water, these animals actually begin to look like the large creatures they are. They appear out of the fog and disappear beneath the depths so rapidly that you can’t really tell how many are around you.
* Continuing on, toward the northeast, you happen upon a large, triangular fin slowly pushing through the surface of the water. As you near, the features of the basking shark are made more clear. It swims along, gently, oblivious to your presence.
* The fog lifts a little more. And, quite suddenly, there are seventy to a hundred humpback whales kick-feeding all around you. More than seventy humpbacks within a four mile radius of your boat! All of them actively making a superb living on small, schooling fish: blowing bubbles beneath the school, then surfacing to slap their tails repeatedly before diving down beneath the fish once more to open their mouths and lunge through the school, taking in as much of the fish and seawater as they can.
* That was the story of July 03. Most of the afternoon and evening trips saw at least 30 feeding humpback whales! Jumanji, Cloud, and Wyoming were among the more commonly sighted.