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Naturalist’s Notebook – August 06, 2016 to August 12, 2016

On Saturday, August 6, we were, alas, unable to repeat the experiment from the past two weeks.  That was because the finback whales were far closer in than they have been.  We started seeing finwhales off the Herring Cove bathhouse.  It was so early in the trip, in fact, that I had to explain to clock system by actually using finback whales as practice.  On the way back in, however, we were able to have a short lesson about what happens to whales and other things when they die and sink to the bottom.  Whalefalls are an incredible source of food for hundreds of species, many of which are closely related to animals we commonly find in Provincetown Harbor, like the Green Crab.

As with most weeks in the summer season, I bait the minnow trap hanging from the Dolphin VII’s float during the week and see what we get on Saturday morning.  Over the years, we have found many really cool things to share with the youngsters.  These include a number of different species of fish.  One week, there was a pair of tiny summer flounder.  Another, there were three pipefish.  Many times there are mumichogs and a variety of other types of minnows.  Once or twice, there were fish that looked so much like cod that I thought maybe they were really tiny ones.  And there was once a sea robin.

Most of the time, the animals we encounter here are not fish but are invertebrates.  There has been the occasional seastar.  That the comb jellies were able to remain in tact as I pulled the trap out of the water came a huge surprise.  And there have been many species of crabs over the years.  Spider crabs have always been my favorite to share around, with their ability to use things they find them to disguise themselves.  There have also been lady crabs and mud crabs.  I still haven’t figured out how the blue crab got itself in the trap.

But Green Crabs are the only constant.  Every week, regardless of what I use to bait the trap, there are always green crabs waiting there for us.  Even on the occasions that I forgot to get there to bait the trap, there were green crabs.  I admit, I have wondered if it is possible that these animals are returning to the trap from week to week because it offers a source of food and a little safety.  I have thought that it might be a good experiment to use a wax crayon to mark the undersides of these crabs to see how many of them are returning from week to week.  Anyway, the presence of green crabs every week allows us to talk about scavengers, kind of completing the cycle.

 

For the most part, whale sightings this week have been very similar to the sightings of last week.  There are still fluctuating numbers of finback whales between Race Point and the Station.  Most of them are swimming around by themselves, foraging or feeding.  There are some that have been seen repeatedly in small groups, but groups up to five have been sighted there this week.

There are also humpback whales down around Peaked Hill.  The number of animals there fluctuates from day to day.  That is true of the numbers on the eastern side of Stellwagen, as well.  Just like over the past few weeks, sometimes they are piled up feeding at the surface.  Sometimes they are more spread out and resting or feeding beneath the surface.

I think Mark Gilmore probably said it best when he wrote, “Everyday is so good lately [that] it is hard to out impress me!  We again had open mouth lunge feeding groups and singles.  The most outrageous event of the day was the afternoon going glass calm and having a single huge female humpback lunge from down deep about ten feet away straight up with open mouth as we watched right down into the tongue and saw thousands of sand eels trying to get out of the way was well as in the mouth.”  That was his notes from the Dolphin IX on August 8.

And I am finding, too, that every week that the sightings are this incredible it is getting harder and harder to find new ways to describe the events that, while they are unbelievable to watch, are so similar to the sightings of last week.  The trips throughout the week are still very different from one to another, but the overview of the weeks past has become very similar.

The best thing I can tell anyone right now is not to wait until it is over!  No matter what you hope to see behavior wise, there is a much better chance to see it while there is a large number of whales close by.  Don’t waste the chance you are being given.

In reading over the notes from the naturalists about the trips they have been on, there was one highlight that really stood out.  Carolyn OConnor reported from the Dolphin X that they had sighted 4 Pilot whales.  She says that they were only able to stay with them for a short period of time, on August 6, before they had to return to the pier.  She says that she, as well as most of her passengers, had never seen them before.  As for myself, I haven’t seen them in nearly 7 or 8 years.  They are not something you see everyday.  Please enjoy her photographs as much as I did.