On July 18th we sailed out to the Southwest Corner of Stellwagen Bank with gray skies, fog, light wind and calm seas. Despite the challenging conditions, we had excellent sightings with 9 humpbacks, 1 finback and 2 minkes. In the morning the Dolphin VI observed a diversity of behaviors, including surface feeding and active behaviors. Tongs and Tracer had found a school of sand lance and were catching their prey by kick feeding. Although both whales were employing the same feeding techniques in close proximity to one another, they were feeding independently of one another. Sometimes we will observe small groups of humpbacks that have formed short-term associations for feeding purposes on Stellwagen Bank. Later in the trip the Dolphin VI observed an active humpback whale flipper slapping and lunge feeding finback whales.
We left Provincetown Harbor on July 19th with ideal whale watching conditions—bright skies, light wind and calm seas. Our sightings included 16 Humpback whales, 5 finback whales and 3 minke whales. In the morning the Dolphin VI observed two cow/calf pairs (Follicle and calf & Fern and calf) that were both flipper slapping. Two singles, Canopy and Pele were also seen flipper slapping. In the afternoon the whales began to switch gears, as many humpbacks appeared to be feeding. The Portuguese Princess for example, observed several humpbacks that were kick feeding and a couple of finbacks that were lunge feeding. Nile, Tracer and Habenero were all engaging in surface feeding behaviors. Kick feeding is a variation on tail lobbing, whereby the whales will smash the surface of the water with their flukes in hopes of stunning a their prey. Interestingly, this is a site-specific behavior therefore it has only experienced in the Gulf of Maine.
We sailed out to Stellwagen Bank on July 20th with ideal conditions—bright skies, light wind and calm seas. Our sightings were diverse with 11 humpbacks, 9 finbacks and 2 minke whales. In the morning the Dolphin VI observed Freefall, Salt and Tongs who were all traveling linearly—perhaps on a set path. In the afternoon, however, the whales became lively. The Portuguese Princess observed an assortment of dynamic behaviors including breaching, close boat approaches and kick feeding. The Princess also observed several blue fin tuna that were traveling near the surface. While on Stellwagen Bank the tuna exploit the productivity of the area and hunt small fish and invertebrates. Throughout the day several recreational fisherman were observed trolling for tuna. Although tuna may appear to be plentiful on Stellwagen Bank, some researchers are concerned that the species is being over fished, as there are strong economic incentives to encourage unsustainable harvesting. Tuna is commonly served in sushi restaurants across the globe and because of its popularity some tunas have been sold over more than $100,000 in Japan.
We sailed out to Peaked Hill on July 21st with bright skies, light wind and calm seas. Our whale sightings were excellent with 16 humpbacks, 2 finbacks and 2 North Atlantic right whales. In the morning many of the humpbacks appeared to be traveling randomly—perhaps suggestive of foraging. Towards the end of the morning trip the Dolphin VI observed a bubble-feeding humpback. Humpbacks will often release bubbles under a school of fish to coalesce their prey into a tight ball. When sand lance are trying to avoid predation they often will aggregate into a dense school, which is a defense mechanism. It just so happens, however, that this defense mechanism makes it easier for the whales to catch their prey. In the afternoon some humpbacks became active as Snare was breaching close to the boat. The highlight of the trip, however, was in the late afternoon when the Portuguese Princess observed 2 North Atlantic right whales (cow/calf pair). It is rare to see a right whale, especially this time of year as they are making their migration further north to the Bay of Fundy. North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered and frequent Cape Cod Bay from January until mid-May to feed on zooplankton. This past season we had a record number of sightings with 189 individuals and a record number of calves born with 39. Although regulation prohibits vessels from approaching right whales (500 yard rule) we were able to appreciate the animals from afar as we watched as the whales exhaled making a distinctive v-shaped spout.
North Atlantic right whale
July 22nd was another great day for whale watching—bright skies, moderate wind and calm seas. We sighted all three species of baleen whale with 18 humpbacks, 3 finbacks and 1 minke whale. In the morning the whales were putting on quite the feed show. Alphorn, Tulip and Pinpoint were all engaging in surface feeding activities such as bubble clouds, kick feeds and open mouths. While watching the whales feed non-stop for almost 15 minutes it became clear that Tulip and Pinpoint were feeding cooperatively. Tulip and Pinpoint would follow their kick feeds with a shallow dive and then release bubbles under the school of fish and then surface with open mouths. When the whales reached the surface we were able to see their baleen hanging down from their upper jaw and their extended ventral pleats running from just under their chin down to their midsection. In the early afternoon several humpbacks became curious of the Portuguese Princess as they gave a close boat approach. While the engines were off, Elephant swam around the boat for 20 minutes, slowly popping up on either side. Feeding resumed in the late afternoon as several humpbacks were making bubble clouds, surfacing with open mouths and doing kick feeds.
Feeding Near Boat
We left Provincetown on July 23rd with challenging weather conditions, as it seemed as though fog had engulfed Cape Cod. Although we only had 300ft of visibility at times, we had exceptional whales watches with 21 humpbacks and 2 finbacks. A myriad of whale behaviors were observed throughout the day. In the morning Dome and Entropy were surface feeding with bubble nets and open mouths. Towards the start of the afternoon the whales displayed active behaviors including tail lobbing and breaching. Perhaps the highlight of the trip, however, was when the Dolphin VI saw Salt and Cardhu. Salt and Cardhu appear to have a long-standing friendship as they are frequently seen together on Stellwagen Bank, in fact they hold the record for the longest recorded association.