October 23rd started off windy but quickly gave way to calmer waters.  Though it took us a while, we were eventually able to find three humpback whales.  Thalassa was accompanied by her calf, as well as another small, unidentified whale.  Anyone who has whale watched with the Dolphin Fleet is probably familiar with a humpback named Salt.  Salt has been seen every summer since 1975 and is easily distinguishable by the white streak on her dorsal fin.  Thalassa is one of Salt’s offspring, born in 1985.  She is hear this year with her eighth calf.  We have been particularly amused to note that, like her grandmother, this calf is sporting very distinct white marking on her dorsal!

THALASSA CALF WITH A SALT DF

This calf is one of 46 humpback whale calves documented in the Gulf of Maine this summer.  This calf will likely stay with its mother for another few months before it ventures off on its own.

So far this year, we have seen many different cetacean species, including North Atlantic right whales, Risso’s dolphins, Common dolphins and Sei whales, in additional to the usual suspects — humpbacks, Minkes, and fin whales.  We added a new species to our list on October 24th with a sighting of a group of Long-finned pilot whales.  Also known as blackfish or potheads, these whales have a particularly notable presence on the Cape due to their tendency to strand in the Wellfleet area.  Investigations as to why this group is so prone to mass strandings has lead to a hypothesis that these whales tend to follow one leader, or “pilot”, hence their name.  If that one animal becomes confused by the unusual geography of Cape Cod Bay, it can lead its entire cohort to an untimely end.

Pilot whales

Today, however, the pod looked healthy, and several individuals were even accompanied by a calf.  This calf was tiny and gray.  Pilot whale calves are often born with light pigmentation, only to darken to a deep black as they mature.

Pilot whale calf

On October 25th, we came upon two humpback whales moving slowly southward.  We quickly noted that it was a mother and calf, and remarked that the calf was covered in white scars.  We recognized the mother as Tornado, and soon found out that this pair had had an extremely eventful morning!

TORNADO AND CALF

Last week, a whale watch vessel in Jeffreys Ledge, just north of where we whale watch, spotted this little whale trailing a substantial amount of fishing gear.  The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies disentanglement team was called, but by the time they arrived, the animal was nowhere to be found.  Today, an aerial survey team was called on to search for the whale, and luckily were able to locate the mother/calf pair in the northern part of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  The disentanglement team arrived on scene, and after several hours of grueling work were able to remove all of the gear from this whale.  It looks like the whales kept chugging southward after their stressful morning, and we will be on the lookout for future confirmation that this whale is healthy.

Entanglement scars

As if watching a newly-rescued humpback calf wasn’t exciting enough, we were thrilled to find a moderately sized pod of common dolphins on our way back into port.  By their swift movements at the surface, it certainly looked as though they had found something to chase and eat.

COMMON DOLPHINS

October 26th was beautiful, warm, and calm.  We traveled for miles and were well northeast of the Triangle when we saw a humpback jump a few miles behind us – in an area that we had just passed through!  We chugged back in time to find a small humpback flippering and lobtailing at the surface.

Small lobtailer

It stayed highly active at the surface for a good ten minutes, but when it dove, it was apparent why we had missed it before.  It stayed down for 20 minutes!  Luckily, when it surfaced again, it continued the exciting surface behavior–flippering, lobtailing, and rolling over to the point where we could see it’s huge eye peering up at us!

rolling over

October 27th marked our last trip of the 2012 season.  We traveled 18 miles offshore into very deep waters.  In general, and particularly when our trips take us to the shallow Stellwagen Bank, we are rarely in more than 210 feet of water.  Today, our depth sounder was telling us that we were in 600 feet!   Here, we had spouts all around us.  We counted between five and seven humpbacks, as well as six fin whales!

This has been an exciting year for the Dolphin Fleet.  Over the course of our seven month season we had nine species of cetacean (humpbacks, fin whales, Minkes, North Atlantic right whales, long-finned pilot whales, common dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, and harbor porpoise), two species of shark (blue and basking), Mola molas, and even a few good looks at leatherback turtles.  As for our beloved humpbacks, 46 mom/calf pairs were documented in the Gulf of Maine this summer.  We’re excited to see what next April will bring.  See you in 2013.

Laridae