* Again today, October 24, the seas prevented whalewatching from Provincetown.
* Finally, after four days of wind and rain and cancelled trips, October 25 was a beautiful, sunny day. The Dolphin 10 left its slip at noon and spiralled her way out of Cape Cod Bay. Gannets and shearwaters were everywhere, setting the stage for an interaction with nature that many of the passengers had never experienced before. Imagine that you are one of them. You have never been on a boat before. You come down the ramp and feel, maybe for the first time, the float beneath you moving with the surface of the water. Then you climb onto the boat. It is also bobbing with the surface of the water and straining its lines, waiting to go. The engines come on. The naturalist says, “Ready on the spring,” and you watch as the mate hauls the thick, yellow line back into the boat. Now she’s backing up, away from the float, and the bobbing begins to feel different as she turns on the surface of the water and begins to head between the two piers of Provincetown Harbor. Past the marker on the end of the breakwater, at the base of which you notice the common eiders floating about. And on top, the double-crested cormorants that, were they larger, you think might have looked very much like dragons with their wings spread out. Then into the channel and toward Long Point. A manx shearwater crisscrosses in front of the bow. At Wood End, now, and the sand bar that is the cape is beginning to rise. You have turned again so the seas are coming at you an altogether different way. Now there are gulls and gannets and more shearwaters. Ahead, you can see the lighthouse at Race Point and, beyond that, the open atlantic ocean.
* Add now to that adventure brief looks at two minke whales. Small compared to the other baleen whales, but, as you noticed when it surfaced next to the boat, still a large animal. The crewmember tells you that, at 25 feet long and weighing approximately 9 tons, it is several tons larger that even the largest elephant. (P. T. Barnum’s “Jumbo” weighed a mere 7 tons.)
* After experiencing nature’s rollercoaster for a short time more, you see three feather-like plumes rising from the water ahead of you. You see them recur several times before three broad shapes rise up from the surface and appear to slip beneath it once more. The naturalist tells you to be patient while the Dolphin 10 gets closer. The minutes seem like decades while you and the other passengers wait. The deck continues to shift beneath your feet and occasionally you feel a brief splash from the sea.
* You hear it before you see it. It almost sounds like the burst of gas you heard when you opened the soda can, but louder. Turning quickly, you see a small island surfacing a short distance from the boat. It gently drops again beneath the water, but a second one begins to appear. This time, you see the feather-plume emerging geyser-like from behind the highest ridge. This is no minke whale. It is huge. Two or more times as long. And round in the middle. The naturalist says that it is a humpback whale, or rather that it is three humpback whales. Not a pod, but a social group of humpback whales.
* Sometimes, when you have been whalewatching for twenty years, as this naturalist has, an experience like this might become clouded by other adventures, but when this was your first experience with the sea, or with a minke whale, or with a humpback whale,
*it is something you will always remember.
* October 26, the last day of the season, consisted of stong NW winds and rough sea. The Dolphin 10 had to tack to the west to ride with the seas to the Race, where a whale was sighted. Further off shore, the spouts of two humpbackw were seen, but it took 20 minutes to get there because of the seas. Calanus and Habenero were sighted travelling, alas, to the northeast.
* Again today, October 24, the seas prevented whalewatching from Provincetown.
* What a day of feeding on the southwest corner!! October 17 was filled with fantastic views of bubble clouds being broken by the huge, open mouths of humpback whales and by some of those same humpbacks lifting their flukes above the surface to slam them down, corraling the schooling fish into a tighter ball. And the calves! Taking advantage of their brief spell of freedom, while the moms were feeding, took quite an interest in the Dolphin 10. And when the time came to return to the harbor, the Dolphin 10 was escorted part of the way by a pod of common dolphins.
* Among the more than half dozen humpback whales seen on October 18 was a female named Buckshot. It’s always good to see whales that you have seen in the past and know a little about. But today was not just a visit with an old friend. See, today it was noticed that Buckshot has a new wound behind her blowholes.
* One of the possible causes of this wound is a boatstrike. Nearly forty percent of the whales in the study population show signs of being struck by vessels. It remains, along with entanglement in fishing gear, one of the leading human induced causes of mortality in the western atlantic. If you operate a vessel, please be careful.
* October 19 was windy and rough. The Dolphin Fleet, in consideration of the safety and comfort of its passengers decided to cancel the trips so that the passengers could reschedule for a more mild day.
* “An ecosystem in action.” That was the way naturalist, Dennis Minsky, described the trips of October 20. The air was cold and the seas were beginning to subside from yesterday’s winds. The humpback whales were, once more, making their living on the southern end of Stellwagen Bank, employing both the blowing of bubbles and the kicking of their flukes to scare and confuse the small fish closer together. One of these whales was a female named Palette.
* Adding to the spectacle of the feeding humpbacks were the hundreds of northern gannets. From the juveniles with their gray-brown plummage to the adults with their striking white and black coloration, these birds were also taking advantage of the vast food source.
* Unfortunately, the rest of the week was windy and rough, forcing the Dolphin Fleet to cancel all trips on October 21, 22, and 23.
* I doubt I could improve on Dennis Minsky’s observations of October 10. “Amazing behavior: Salt and company lunge-feeding on KRILL out at the Triangle! Wide open mouths and engorged throats! Very exciting. Something new for even veteran whalewatchers!”
* And there was also the lobtailling of Chromosome in the morning.
* Whalewatching on the 11th of October featured numerous mother and calf pairs. By this time in a humpback calf’s life, its mother has already taught it most of what it needs to know to be a little whale. She is now consentrating on making sure the little one can adequately feed. And that might be what was behind the feeding behavior of Wizard this afternoon. Her calf was closeby, no doubt taking in its mother’s technique.
* Wizard would also have been preparing for the winter. In just a few short weeks, she will likely begin her migration to the warmer tropical seas. When she gets there, however, the warm waters will not offer her the bounty she has enjoyed off our coasts this summer. Those warm waters, so important to the survival of calves and to the intermingling of the Atlantic stock’s gene pool, are very much like a desert for large whales. The clear waters indicate that they are void (or far more so) of the plankton, both plant and animal, that make our coasts so productive. In these tropical waters, the nutrients and energy are absorbed by the coral reef systems before they have the chance to nourish the free-floating plankton that are the food source for the small schooling fish that large whales like Wizard feed on. It will be a long winter for her. And she will loose a great deal of weight and not just because she is living off of the caloric value of her blubber. She will also rely on that blubber as a source of the fresh water her body requires. During the feeding season, the summer, she is utilizing the water content of the fish she is eating to supply her body’s needs. With that food source gone, she will need to hydrolize that water from the layer of blubber she has worked so hard to build while in the feeding grounds.
* Looks at feeding humpbacks continued on October 12. Drawn to the east by a few spouts, the Dolphin 8 soon found herself in the midst of a group of humpbacks blowing bubble nets. This group grew quickly from four to eight or ten and included several mother and calf pairs. The Dolphin 9 reports that by the time it got to the area, the calves had become “frisky” to the delight of its passengers. And by the time the afternoon trips arrived, that friskiness had turned into heightened activity like spinning head breaches and flipper slapping. It also had turned into curiosity. Both Nile’s calf and Baja’s calf took quite an interest in the vessel and investigated it thoroughly.
* If yesterday was just good whalewatching, there is no word for the encounters of October 13. Just like yesterday, the mothers were feeding themselves, preparing for the long winter. And, just like yesterday, the calves were taking advantage of their free time in energetic ways. While their mothers were actively engaged in making a spectacular living, the calves of Milkweed, Wizard, Baja, and Midnight were amusing themselves by flippering, rolling, lobtailling, and breaching. The entire day was nonstop action in all directions. One naturalist observed, “I didn’t know where to tell them to look! There was just so much going on!”
* October 14 began lazy. The light southwest winds and overcast sky were kind of a lolling thing on the trip to the southwest corner of Stellwagen. And the logging of Nile and her calf just seemed to fit in with the laziness of the morning. Once the Dolphin 10 moved further east, however, that changed abruptly. Again, throughout the day, mothers fed and calves played. While intricate bubble nets were being formed on one side of the boat, a calf was rolling on the other. And, while this mother or that broke through the surface with her mouth wide open, gathering thousands of tiny fish, her calf was on the other side of the boat, tail-breaching. Again, this naturalist’s delemma is, which way do I tell them to look?
* October 15 was a gorgeous day. It felt like August. And the feeding of the adults continued to the east of the southwest corner. This year’s mothers; like Midnight, Iota, Baja, and Wizard, and old favorites; like Salt, Colt, Dome, and Buckshot, joining in the feeding frenzy.
* And there was also the lively tail-breaching of a whale named Sundown.
* The increasing winds of yesterday afternoon caused a wild ride on October 16. That did not prevent the Dolphin 10 from finding five humpback whales, including a mother named Baja and her calf. Even with the rolling seas, the pair spent nearly a half hour just off of the stern of the vessel, investigating the large object at the interface of their world and the air. Once their curiosity was sated, they began to nurse. Even now, the calves are still partially dependant on their mothers for sustinence. Thus the continued heavy feeding of the mothers over the past several days.