Saturday 3 May
It is gray and cold as we leave the harbor on the DVII and DVIII. We stop for a moment to look for the small humpback whales that have been sighted in the harbor for the past few weeks. One of the humpbacks is spotted inside Long Point in shoal water, so we continue on our way. In the Bay we find one humpback whale just as it lifts its flukes and dives. After several minutes the whale surfaces at a distance and we make our way towards Race Point. Here in the churning rich waters humpbacks are feeding and finback whales seem to race about. Jabiru, Thread, Ivory, Tracer and Tongs and her 2008 calf are photographed by all.
In the same area is a small Minke whale, one of the first we have spotted this season. It seems the size of a dolphin but is in fact is the smallest of the baleen whales in Cape Cod waters. This seemingly small whale is actually about 20 feet (6.1 meters) long! The Minke whale is also known as the little piked whale, because of the pointed snout visible when the whale first surfaces. In the waters off Cape Cod, Minkes are sighted year round, yet, little is known about their lives. Sightings on Stellwagen are primarily of one individual or small groups of two or three. Unlike other species in the area, it is rare to see mothers with calves. Some researchers speculate that the Minkes of Cape Cod are primarily juveniles. Abundant in number world-wide, Minkes are the most heavily hunted baleen whale. Despite a moratorium on commercial whaling, over 1400 Minkes are killed each year in commercial hunts off Iceland, Norway, in the North Pacific and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Breaching Minke whale
By afternoon the whales moved further North towards Stellwagen Bank. On our way past Long Point we see two large coyotes on the beach- perhaps looking for food in the form of birds or hauled-out seals. Once out of the Bay with continuing rain, we begin to see the spouts of finback and humpback whales. Just off the edge of Stellwagen Bank we have an amazing view of a large finback whale, the second largest animal on earth. Nearby Putter and Loon are feeding.
Coyote at Long Point
Sunday 4 May
Sunday dawns gray, wet and foggy. Although the southeast wind is warm, the rain and fog make for a chilly afternoon. The whales primarily are in the Bay and we are happy not to venture far offshore. West of Wood End we find finback and humpback whales as well as a large school of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Walrus, Ganesh, Fern and Weave are kick-feeding. Most energetic is Ganesh, who lifts her tail flukes high in the air before slapping them on the water and surfacing, mouth open, through a cloud of bubbles.
Off in the distance are two, skim-feeding North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered mammals in the world. We keep a distance so as not to disturb them. The naturalist calls a right whale ‘hot line’ that will alert mariners to the position and activity of the whales to keep them out of harms way. Ship strikes and entanglements are the two main causes of mortality of these rare whales. We look through binoculars for signs of nets or lines on the right whales. According to researchers at the New England Aquarium, over 60% of all North Atlantic right whales have entanglement scars and currently, at least 12 are known to be entangled. In Provincetown, a local group with an international impact, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS), has been working diligently to rescue entangled whales. Since 1984, PCCS “has freed more than ninety large whales from life threatening entanglements, using techniques developed by Center staff. The Center is the only organization on the east coast of the United States, federally authorized by National Marine Fisheries Service, to disentangle large, free swimming whales, such as the humpback and the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. Over the years PCCS has also disentangled other marine animals, like dolphins and porpoises, seals and sea turtles.
The principle disentanglement technique, a modification of an old whaling practice called kegging, involves attaching large floats, or kegs, to the gear entangling the animal. The floats add buoyancy and drag to the animal, making it difficult for it to dive, eventually tiring it out. The desired result is a relatively immobile animal that is more safe to cut free. The kegging system is designed for easy release should the rescue attempt fail.
Because of the endangered status of many of these animals, especially the northern right whale, where approximately 300 animals are believed to exist, the successful release of just one animal may have a profound effect on the recovery of the population as a whole. Over fifty-percent of known right whale mortalities have been attributed to either entanglements or ship strikes.”
Entangled right whale
“Starting in 1994, a Disentanglement Network was established in the U.S. and Canada to increase the scope of response to entangled marine animals. Coordinated by PCCS and authorized and partially funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service in U.S. waters, the network is comprised of first response personnel that have extensive field experience with whales and small boat handling skills. Network members may assess, monitor, document and, in some cases, disentangle an animal. However, in situations where the animal is a candidate for rescue (dependent upon weather, resources, or complexity of the entanglement), the first responders may attach a satellite/VHF tag beacon to the entangled gear. The animal may then be tracked and rescued when conditions are more favorable.
The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies is federally-authorized to perform large whale disentanglement under the authority of Scientific Research and Enhancement Permit Number 932-1489-04/PRT009526, issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service and United States Fish and Wildlife Service under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. “ (from PCCS web site www.coastalstudies.org ).
Monday 5 May
Another gray morning, but with a forecast of sunshine by afternoon. This morning the whales are just North of Race Point and we can see their splashing from miles away. A small school of dolphins and a few finback whales are sighted, but humpback whales are numerous, numbering over 25! We recognize Thread, Ivory, Springboard, Ganesh, Reflection, Pices and Loon.
Feeding near the bow
By afternoon, it seems that more humpback whales have moved into the area North of Race Point. The skies now are bright and the winds light and variable. The humpback whales still are feeding actively and birds hover waiting for the small prey to be brought to the surface by the whales. This afternoon we photographed Anvil and her 2008 calf, Glostick, Flounder, Deuce, Lavaliere, Ganesh, Filament, Loon, Meerkat, Isthmus, Zipper, Apex, Walrus, Fern, Thumper and Reflection.
Getting to know individual whales:
Individual humpback whales can be identified readily through photographs of natural markings and scars, particularly those found on the underside of the tail flukes. These patterns, ranging in color from all white to all black, appear to be generally stable in adults, much like our thumbprints. The size and shape of the dorsal fin on the whales’ back, as well as acquired scars also are useful in identifying individual whales.
Scientifically, following individuals of any species throughout their life is the key to answering basic, biological questions. To date, over 1,800 humpback whales, spanning at least 4 generations, have been documented during 32 years of data collection aboard the Dolphin Fleet. While we do not know how old humpback whales live to be, we do know that they can reach sexual maturity at the age of 4 and have documented each year they return with a calf. The answers to basic questions are necessary to not only better understand the species, but to promote their protection and conservation.
Anvil is a mature, female humpback whale first photographed in 1985. This year Anvil returned with her 7th calf. If resighted next year, her calf will be named in 2010.
Anvil and calf
Deuce is a mature, female humpback whale first photographed in 1988. She has returned to the waters off Cape Cod with 3 calves.
Tuesday 6 May
Tuesday is bright and mild with light and variable winds. Near Long Point we sight a small school of Atlantic white-sided dolphins, some with small calves. The large whales however are just outside the Bay where the sightings have been spectacular over the past few days. Hundreds of gulls, terns and gannets and at least 15 humpback whales, including Lavaliere, Appaloosa, Filament, Meerkat and Loon, are feeding on small fish that seem to be in abundance this season.
Later in the day the humpbacks were moving about and diving for 5 to 8 minutes. There was little to sign of surface feeding. Rune, who earlier in the season was sighted with her calf of last year, was traveling alone. Also in the area were Loon, Filament, Glostick, Meerkat and Anvil and her calf.
Getting to know individual whales:
Meerkat was born in 1991 to Lynx, who has returned with 5 calves. We do not know if Meerkat is a male or female.
Loon is a mature, female humpback whale first photographed in 1985. She has a very distinctive tail pattern and has returned with 3 calve
Wednesday 7 May
Today the sky is bright and the seas calm as we leave the harbor and make our way to an area southwest of Stellwagen Bank. The whales, mostly humpbacks, are scattered throughout the area and most are surface feeding. Ganesh and Thread are kick-feeding and Anvil with her calf by her side slowly moves about. Fulcrum and Loon’s 2007 calf are feeding through a large bubble cloud. The yearling will be named next spring. Walrus and Ivory also are surface feeding with an occasional kick.
In the afternoon we return to the same area and photograph many of the same humpback whales including Ganesh and Anvil and her calf. We also find Pogo (our first sighting this year), Gumdrop and Pinpoint.
Getting to know individual whales:
Pinpoint, a 4-year old humpback whale was born to Horizon in 2004 and was named for a pin mark on the right fluke. We do not know if Pinpoint is a male or female.
Pogo was first sighted in 1997 and was named for a mark on the right fluke that resembles a pogo stick. We do not know how old Pogo is or if Pogo is a male or female.
Zipper is a mature female humpback whale who has returned with 6 calves. Two of the calves were named Visage and Chaise.
Thursday 8 May
Rain, fog and heavy winds prevail as we leave the harbor early afternoon. Despite the weather we are able to find 7 humpback whales west of the Race. The humpbacks are easy to see as Appaloosa and Pogo are kick feeding and the splashes are a white contrast to the gray day. Further west we find 2 finback whales and Springboard’s 2006 calf.
Getting to know individual whales:
Appaloosa is a mature, female humpback whale first photographed in 1983. She has returned with 2 calves. One of the calves was named Tweezer.
Springboard is a mature, female humpback whale named after a mark resembling a diving board on her right fluke. She returned with her first calf in 2006. The calf will be named next year.
Friday 9 May
Gray, drizzle and fog seems to be the weather theme for the past few days. We travel through the bay with no whales in sight. Out in the North Atlantic, west of Stellwagen bank we spot several humpback whales and a few dolphins. The humpback whales all are surface feeding and we watch the energetic kick feeding of Reaper, Walrus, Thumper, Abrasion, Putter, Pogo, Lavaliere, Pices, Isthmus, Filament and Weave. As we drifted, a large bubble ring surfaced under the bow- and Putter surfaced nearby!
Bubble ring on the bow
The few dolphins navigate easily between the active humpbacks, using their built-in sonar. If we were to deploy our hydrophone- an underwater microphone- it would pick up a series of clicks, chirps and whistles. While the chirps and whistles may be more social or communicative in nature, the clicks are part of the dolphins echolocation system- built in sonar that allows them to “see” their world through sound. We learn that sound travels about one mile (1500 meters) per second in the water-faster than in air. It is believed that dolphins send out a series of clicks and can determine the distance to a target by measuring the time between the emitted click and the returning echo. The echo is the returning sound bouncing off the target, perhaps a school of fish. Amazingly, the time it takes a click to travel to a school of fish 100 meters away and bounce back to the dolphin is about 1/8 of a second!
Atlantic white-sided dolphins
The afternoon brought no relief weather-wise but the whales were as active. We photographed the flukes and feeding behavior of Putter, Gumdrop and several of the whales we watched in the morning.
Getting to know individual whales:
Putter is a mature, male humpback whale born in 1993 to Mars. Mars has been sighted all spring.
Isthmus is a mature, female humpback whale born in 1986 to Orbit. She is a second generation and has returned with 7 calves.
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We have reduced our capacity for more comfort for our guests. All un-vaccinated passengers (over the age of 2) are requested to wear face masks.
Vaccinated passengers are not required to wear masks on outer decks although we highly recommend them; this is for the safety of everyone. Masks are required for all wishing to enter the enclosed cabin. Food, beverages and coolers will not be allowed onboard, with the exception of infant needs. Please visit our COVID-19 Policies and Procedures for more information. We are excited to see you soon and get you out on the water for another whale watching season!