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Naturalist’s Notebook – June 06 to June 12

* It was sunny and bright on June 06. The wind had shifted, allowing the seas to subside and create wonderful day on the water. Again, large numbers of humpback whales were sighted throughout the day. One trip recorded as many as two and a half dozen. For the adults, making their living by feeding on the schooling fish keeps them occupied.


* The calves, however, as they are still counting on milk from their mothers, have time to be curious. Curiosity is quite common among mammals, especially among the young. Humpback whales are no exception to this. And today, the calves of Nile, Tornado, and Tongs took the time to look over the whalewatch boats, thrilling passengers and crew alike, and allowing them excellent opportunities to be curious themselves.
* Milkweed’s calf was a bit of an exception, today. While the other calves were spending their time around the boats looking them over and exploring the sights and sounds of them, this youngster appeared to be playing at kickfeeding. It is thought that one of the reasons calves do things like breach and lobtail is play. Just like a great deal of human play behavior, humpback whale play behavior appears to a way to learn how to do things the calf will need to be able to do as an adult and to strengthen the muscles it will need to do them. Slapping the surface of the water with its tail and blowing bubbles beneath the surface of the water were not the most exciting facets of this play. This youngster swam around with its mouth open.


* This young whale here offers a wonderful view of its baleen while moving slowly enough for all to get a good look.

* Of course, not all of the humpback whales seen today were in the midst of huge schools of prey species. Orbit and a second, as yet unidentified, whale were seen just slowly travelling from one place to another.

ORBIT AND UNK_6-6-14_IMG_9379

* The feeding continued on June 07. We have seen much feeding in the past several months. Sometimes, the humpbacks are feeding by themselves. Sometimes, they have been in small groups of three or four or even five. There have even been groups of seven or eight lunging through a single bubble system. Today, there were as many as thirteen!!!!! The research cameras on the Dolphin Fleet vessels do not have a wide enough lense to capture that many open mouths at once.

* When you go whalewatching, you are not just going out to look for whales. You are entering what is, for many passengers, an alien world: somewhere they have never been before. Because of this, there are a great number of fauna that are not whales and that are of great interest to passengers. Most of these other animals are also of interest to the researchers that are aboard each of the Dolphin Fleet’s trips acting as naturalists. For example, birds that feed on the same kinds of small, schooling fish as the whales indicate a place where whales may be now or may come to feed shortly. Birds that feed on other things, for example the storm petrels that feed on plankton, may show were the schooling fish might move to in order to find more food. The same is true for fish that feed lower on the food chain, such as the basking shark. This large fish feeds mostly on very small animals that are part of the zooplankton. On June 08, several of these fishes were spotted by the passengers of the whalewatches from Provincetown.


Slashing basker

* There were also two species of seal recorded today; harbor seals


* And gray seals.

Gray Seal

* There were, of course, whales too. In fact, throughout the day, three species of whales were spotted. Half a dozen minke whales were seen.


A small minke whale breaks the surface
A small minke whale breaks the surface

* Three finwhales were also seen.

subsurface finner 2

* And nearly 3 dozen humpback whales.

* For an overcast day, June 09 was a beautiful day on the water. While numerous minke whales and finback whales were spotted, it was the humpbacks that again were the most prevalent. Nearly three dozen were spotted today. And there were various kinds of feeding behaviors, like kick feeding and bubble feeding. And breaching. And flipper-slapping. One naturalist (with thirty years of whalewatch experience) said it was the best feeding display she had ever seen..


OPEN WIDE_6-9-14_IMG_1544

* June 10 was gray and a bit rainy. That did not interfere with the action on the southeast corner of Stellwagen Bank. More than a dozen humpback whales were viewed there today, feeding on sand eels. At times, the feeding activity was intense and, at other times, it would slow down.

FEEDING NEAR D9_6-10-14_IMG_9624

FEEDING ON BOW-6-10-14_IMG_9608

FEEDING ON BOW2-6-10-14_IMG_9608

* MILKWEED 14 CALF_6-9-14_IMG_1539

* With all of the feeding continuing around the southern edge of Stellwagen, it was the antics of calves like this one that captured the attention of the passengers on June 11. Milkweed’s calf (pictured above) spent a while playing beside the Dolphin 8. The calf was not only observed breaching, but also playing with seaweed.

spyhop in seaweed. IMG_1684-1

* Glostick’s calf joined in the breaching, as well.


* All of this was seen against the backdrop of the feeding adult humpbacks. Again, up to a dozen and more, were making their living in the spectacular way that only humpback whales do.

* June 12 was not just about feeding humpback whales and their calves. There were also nearly a dozen lunging minke whales, feeding on the same schools of sand eels that their larger cousins were devouring.



* But, as exciting as it is to watch feeding minke whales, the action is fast and unpredictable. So again today, it was the humpback whales that were most appreciated by the passengers. In the afternoon, one of the calves that had been breaching in the morning, to the delight of the students from Provincetown, now, in addition to breaching, delighted the students from Rhinebeck by rolling over and approaching the boat in a curious manner. This youngster appeared quite comfortable in the close company of the boat and took its good old time putting water between itself and the vessel. Students from all walks of life enjoy this kind of encounter.