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September 6 to September 11

September 6th was another great day for whale watching.  Despite the overcast, gray skies, the seas were flat calm and our visibility was superb.  We headed out towards Peaked Hill, an area on the northern coast of the Cape, right near the Provincetown/Truro boarder.  Here, we found around 20 humpbacks.  At first, they were all very low-key. Many of them, including Zeppelin, Pleats and Twilight, were quietly resting at the surface, floating in a behavior known as logging.  It’s not known for sure how large cetaceans like humpback whales manage to rest while simultaneously regulating their breathing, but we suspect that by floating at the surface like gigantic logs, they are able to rest after what is sometimes a busy day of feeding or surface behaviors.

Soon, the tempo picked up as a small, unidentified humpback would embark on 10 minute dives and emerge at the surface flippering.  Ravine’s calf also gave us an exciting close boat approach.  Keeping an eye on her young calf, Ravine followed close behind, accompanied by Springboard.  At one point, Ravine slippered toward the calf and the calf zoomed ahead to stay clear!  Ravine then turned toward Springboard who veered away as well!  These scenes give us an increasing picture about how intricate the communication systems are between humpback moms, calves, and other cohorts!

On the way in, we noticed a lot of activity in the distance, so we hurried to catch a quick look at the commotion.  We found Habenero and her calf breaching, lobtailing and flippering!



Humpback whale behavior on September 7 was somewhat puzzling.  As in previous days, the water was calm and the destination was Peaked Hill.   We had to search long and hard before we found our first humpback on the morning trip.  Once we did, we found that even though there were at least 10 humpbacks in the area, they were keeping a low profile.  They would disappear for long periods of time underwater, only to dramatically re-appear with a breach or flipper slap!


Music breaches

At one point, Elephant and Convict surprised us by suddenly flipper slapping right next to the Dolphin IX!


On September 8 the wind had picked up, and rather than head north as we had done on previous days, our captain opted to follow the contour of Stellwagen Bank east.   Rockier seas meant that we had to put in extra effort to locate animals among the swells and white caps.  Suddenly, the boat lurched to a halt.  The mate had spotted a whale close to the boat and we stopped and waited for it to reappear.  Suddenly, it popped up, almost nuzzling against the side of the boat, and as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared again, never to return!

Fortunately, a short-time later we were able to locate Convict, who had kept up its antics from the day before.  This whale breached repeatedly, creating even larger splashes than the increasingly heavy seas!


September 9th was gray and overcast, but the seas were relatively calm.  The day got off to a slow start.  There were many humpbacks in the area, including Subterranean, Pumba and Pox, but they were going on ten minute dives and only coming up for a quick breath in between.  Even though we spent a lot of time patiently waiting for our whales, it was worth the wait as we got a stunning, close up view as this humpback swam right under the boat!    As we waited for our long divers to surface, we noticed another pair of humpbacks to the north.  We headed in that direction to investigate and found Habenero and her calf.  Habenero was born in 2000 and this is her second calf to date.

Soon, more whales started to show up and spend more time at the surface.  Ventisca was with Pumpkinseed, Spirit, Stonewall and Twine.  Most of them were going on eight minute dives, which seemed like no time compared to our first group of whales!  Twine lobtailed twice, but then resumed the longer dives, so we headed south again where we found more consistent surface activity.  Music was flippering constantly while Sanchal lobtailed nearby.


Suddenly, Music breached and Sanchal immediately followed suit!  Music continued to flipper close to the boat, but by that time we had to start heading for home.  What a perfect ending to our trip!

Music breaching

Our passengers on September 10th deserve high marks for being in such good spirits on such a rough day!  The wind was blowing from the north and kicking up high seas, but the sun was out and the white clouds were billowing and there was plenty of activity in the southeast corner of Stellwagen Bank.  Habenero and her calf made another appearance and her calf appeared to be nursing.  We can tell this is happening when a calf swims back and forth underneath its mother, angling towards her to feed on her thick, rich milk.  Calves do this by nudging the underside of their mother’s body next to their mammary duct.  The calf curls its tongue to form a funnel and the mother squirts the milk directly into the calf’s mouth.  Their milk is so rich in nutrients that a calf might gain up to 100 pounds a day!

The rough seas meant that there was lots of surface activity.  Most passengers saw the breaches that occurred within a mile of the Dolphin IX.  Meanwhile, near the Dolphin VIII, several humpbacks were slapping their flippers and even breaching occasionally, while a group of three humpbacks was charging through a school of fish as shearwaters swooped down to enjoy some of the leftovers!

Flippering humpback

On the way home, we had another treat.   A small pod of Common dolphins, including lots of young ones, were charging through Cape Cod Bay.   Despite their name, this species is less common in the area than Atlantic white-sided dolphins; however, we have been seeing them with some regularity over the past few weeks!

It was windy and a bit choppy on the morning of September 11th, but once the tide turned, the seas calmed down for a smooth rise.  For some reason, this also seemed to be a signal for all of the humpbacks to take a nap!  Because of their  natural buoyancy, humpbacks can float at the surface without moving, a behavior called logging, which is presumed to be resting behavior.  Ventisca and Zeppelin were doing just this, and we were able to sit right next to them as they hung suspended just below the surface, occasionally breathing.  They were so still that we could hear the waves breaking over their backs!

The whales remained quiet throughout the day.  At one point, we watched a group of birds get very excited about a cloud of bubbles rising to the surface.  Like the birds, we hoped that this meant that the whales were about to start feeding.  No such luck.  The whales appeared to be messing with the birds or us (or both!).

Even though the whales were low-key, there were plenty to see, including Putter, Ventisca, Pleats (who is, coincidentally, Ventisca’s 2008 calf), Putter, Reflection, Thumper and calf.  We also saw plenty of other species as well, including a Mola mola, a grey seal, and a huge bluefin tuna!

Thumper's calf