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Naturalist Notebook: April 20 – April 25

* April 20 was a day blessed with the sightings of 8 different species of marine mammals. There is no doubt that, for those of us that have been spending large amounts of time on the water, the highlight of the day was the discovery of our old friend, Salt, with her new calf. If you are new to the whale world, Salt is a big deal. She has been seen every year since east coast whalewatching began here in Provincetown in 1975. Though not seen as a calf herself, she has returned to our waters with 12 calves in the period of time we have been studying her. Photographs of Salt, both here and in the waters of the Carribean, proved that the humpbacks that spend the summers feeding here are some of the humpbacks that use the area around Silver Bank as a mating and calving ground. We will be watching for her, as she is one of a few whales that brings hers calves up to the side of boats as if to say, “Yes, this one’s ok to get close to.”
* Again, the Race Point Station is the place to be on April 21. Humpback whales, finwhales, dolphins, and numerous species of birds found the area to be a fulfilling feeding ground today. Humpback whales were seen blowing intricate nets of bubbles to corral the small schooling fish together, making them easy pickings for the gannets and gulls that were fast enough to get in and out before the whales lunged through the now-condensed school. At one point, the sand-eels were easily visible against the backdrop of the bubbles.
* It was hard to say which trip of April 22 was better. In the morning, several finwhales lungefeeding at the surface created a thrilling atmosphere, largely because two of them continually were showing the undersides of their flukes and left flippers. Now, if you are new to the whale world, you need to know that finwhales, because they almost never lift their tails above the surface to dive, create a huge field of excitement when they present the underside of their tails (flukes). Passengers and naturalists, alike, get swept up into this energy when they see the white undersides of those flukes. You don’t have to one of us to understand when you finally do see it for yourself.
* And then, in the afternoon, there were two humpback whales that spent a great deal of time lobtailing and flippering within a boat’s length of the Dolphin IX. Ways to communicate, grooming behavior, or even play are the theories behind these behaviors, but that uncertainty doesn’t make them any less exciting to witness.
* And if April 22 couldn’t have been any better, April 23 sure gave it a shot. Again, against a backdrop of northern right whales, finwhales that were pushing white-sided dolphins in their pressure waves and being followed by numerous gulls. Gannets and harbor porpoise and humpback whales adding to the backdrop. Yes, it was definately a finwhale kind of day. You won’t really understand about finwhales until you see one for yourself. There is magesty and grace and mystery that you just can’t see without actually seeing one.
* April 24 was too rough for even the crew of the Dolphin IX. We stayed home and played fetch with our dogs.
* No right whales were seen on April 25. This is not a thing to worry about. It is about this time every year that the right whales move on out of Cape Cod Bay and continue on to colder waters where they will spend the summer. (For some of them, the Great South Channel, for others, the Bay of Fundy, and for more, Brown’s Bank). Finwhales and seals and birds were still abundant, but the absence of the right whales was felt as keenly as the presence of those others.