The first trip of the weekend is always special, as our 9 AM trip is tailored toward the next generation of whale-watchers, with hopefully a few future marine biologists or conservationists mixed in. The July 16 Saturday morning trip began with the naturalist and children on board reading “Ibis: A True Whale Story”, a tale of the first humpback whale to be rescued from a life threatening entanglement by our colleagues at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. Passengers of all ages learned about the dangers whales face and what each of can do in our hometowns to help them and our planet, while the Dolphin X steamed offshore to find a large group of humpback whales.
Throughout the rest of the day, Dolphin Fleet whale watches observed well over a dozen humpback whales, including Venom and her calf, Ganesh and her calf, Infinity, Alphorn, Dracula, Ampersand, Epee, Strike, Lariat, and Etch-a-Sketch. Many of the adults were feeding, mothers with their much smaller but still massive calves close by.
On July 17, passengers walked through Provincetown’s sleepy streets to board their morning trips, to be treated an hour later to a sighting of Salt, the first humpback whale to be named by the Dolphin Fleet in 1975 and one of the most famous individual whales in the world! Her distinctive fluke pattern has graced many a postcard and book cover, not to mention the photos of millions of whale watchers. A grandmother with twelve known calves, she swam relatively quietly alongside the Dolphin IX, before beginning to feed later in the morning along with several other humpback whales, mouths wide open at the surface as passengers watched from the rails of the Dolphin X.
By the afternoon, nearly two dozen humpbacks were seen feeding, along with minke and fin whales and countless seabirds. Among the individually identified humpback whales observed blowing clouds of bubbles, thrashing their massive tails, and closing their huge jaws at the surface were Moonlight, Strike, Dracula, Echo, Tectonic, Springboard, Coral, Centipede, Greenbean, Eruption, Circuit, Infinity, Rattan, Fern, and Ganesh, while Ganesh’s calf breached and slapped its flipper on the surface nearby. While feeding humpback whales are an awe-inspiring sight, the end result of that feeding may often be found in the form of orangish-brown clouds of feces at the surface, a fragrant reminder that these magnificent creatures are animals just like many others on land.
A breezy morning on July 18 did not deter eager whale watchers from heading offshore to see dozens of feeding humpback whales, including Salt, Exclaim, Coral, Rattan, Tear, Seal, Fracture, and Epee. Humpback whales weren’t the only creatures feeding at the surface. Giant bluefin tuna, highly evolved fish with the temperature regulation mechanisms of warm-blooded animals like whales, were seen pursuing bluefish at the surface, their splashes drawing the eyes of excited passengers. Ominous clouds on the horizon set the stage for a sad sight for the passengers and crew of the Dolphin VII – Reflection, an adult female humpback whale, was tangled in fishing gear for at least the second time in her life! Anxious whale watchers stood by as the rescue team from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies rushed offshore in response to the radio call from the Dolphin VII. The team soon freed the whale, despite the oncoming rain squalls, and all breathed a sigh of relief.
Afternoon trips were filled with hardy souls who braved the rain to see even more humpback whales, breaching, lobtailing, and waving their massive flippers. While some of these behaviors seem to happen more frequently on windy days, nobody knows their true meaning. We can all agree it makes for an amazing show! Among the humpback whales observed in the afternoon were Buckshot, Habenero, Rocker, Salt, Seal, Exclaim, Coral, Epee, and Putter.
On July 19, the Dolphin Fleet whale watches were treated to the sight of another humpback feeding frenzy! Dozens of humpbacks were seen feeding, using bubble clouds to drive their fish prey to the surface to be trapped in their massive mouths, which can hold nearly 15,000 gallons of water! Dozens of minke whales and seabirds were seen feeding, including sooty and great shearwaters. While the shearwaters and gulls often sneak a fish or two right out of humpback whales’ open mouths, a bird was seen that does nearly the same thing to other birds – a parasitic jaeger was seen, which will often harass other seabirds until they drop or regurgitate their food!
By the afternoon, many of the humpback whales changed their behavior from feeding to flipper-slapping and other active behaviors. Daily activity patterns of humpback whales are generally unpredictable, and the sight of Centipede waving a massive flipper in the air, displaying a unique pattern of black pigment on its white underside, was a pleasant surprise! Among the other identified humpbacks in the area were Pumba, Ampersand, Habenero, Putter, Perseid, Epee, Infinity, Salt, Ember, Dracula, Abrasion, Exclaim, Colt, Jumanji, Pogo, Ganesh and her calf, Tectonic, Echo, Springboard, Draco, Bounce, Greenbean, Ampersand, Alphorn, Pele, Strike, Vampire, Circuit, and Lariat.
Wednesday morning, July 20, began hot and muggy, and passengers enjoyed the cooler offshore air as the Dolphin Fleet’s four vessels steamed around Race Point, leaving Cape Cod Bay behind for the colder waters north and east of the Cape.
Many pelagic seabirds were observed, including Cory’s, great, sooty, and manx shearwaters, as well as a parasitic jaeger in hot pursuit of terns and their food! A rarer sight was a lone North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered large whales in the world. By the afternoon, southwest winds turned the wavetops to froth, and many of the humpback whales seen on the morning trips became active, breaching and slapping their flippers to the delight of our passengers.
Lots of humpback whales were identified, including Venom and her calf, Ventisca and her calf, Pele, Alphorn, Centipede, Tectonic, Echo, Springboard, Infinity, Duckpin, Perseid, Circuit, Pumba, Rattan, Eruption, Tear, Salt, Buckshot, Putter, Thumper, and Hippocampus.
A windy day on July 21 did not deter eager whale-watchers from boarding the Dolphin Fleet’s sturdy 100 foot boats. An early morning fog lifted to reveal several humpback whales along the shores of Truro, breaching and waving their huge tails!
Some familiar humpback tails were seen, including those of Sanchal, Ember, Coral, Gunslinger, Spike, Ampersand, Cantilever, and Peninsula.
A breaching minke whale, an extremely rare sight, was the highlight of the day, the tiny (only a few tons!) whale throwing its body clear of the water’s surface over and over. The next day, July 22, the winds died down and the heat returned on land. Eager whale-watchers enjoyed the breeze as the Dolphin VII, VIII, IX, and X whisked them offshore to find the largest group of feeding humpback whales anyone had seen so far this year!
Dozens of humpback whales surfaced over and over amid clouds of bubbles, elaborate bubble nets, and the disturbances created by their massive tails as they thrashed the surface around schools of sand lance.
At one point, twelve humpback whales were seen with their mouths open at the same time!
Captains, crew, naturalists and passengers alike watched in awe as the frenzy continued throughout the day, fin and minke whales amid the dozens of feeding humpbacks.
While the naturalists spent much of their time leaning over the rail, as fascinated as the first-time whale-watchers, they were able to identify many of the humpback whales, including Pogo, Tunguska, Salt, Abrasion, Rattan, Exclaim, Tear, Infinity, Coral, Colt, Wizard and her calf, Centipede, Venom and her calf, Putter, Dome, Condensation, Etch-a-Sketch, Tracer, Ampersand, Rocker, Ember, Perseid, Moonlight, Jabiru, Cajun, Buckshot, Springboard, Pumba, Strike, Reflection, Duckpin, Cardhu, Jumanji, Lariat, Soot, and Bounce.