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Naturalist Notebook – April 26 to May 02

* April 26 was a bad day to be a sand launce in the Race Point Rip. Because that is where a humpback whale and nearly a dozen finback whales, along with several hundred atlantic white-sided dolphins, spent a large part of the day feasting on millions of the tiny fish. The cetaceans were joined in their meal by four species of gulls, northern gannets, and double-crested cormorants and two species of seals. A feeding humpback whale is a sight to see, but on this afternoon’s adventure, it was the lightning fast, powerful lunges of the finback whales that delighted the passengers of the Dolphin IX the most.
* The rain gave way to an overcast sky, making the blows of the finback whales on April 27 much easier to see at a distance. Today, they appeared to be feeding at depth on what might have been huge schools of herring. They were seen frequently at the surface and, several times, rose up very close to the boat.
* The finback whales continued to feed on April 28 but the looks of the day came from a number of minke whales. In the morning, one swam quite cooperatively beside the boat as it passed along the Race Point Rip, allowing incredible looks at the smallest of the baleen whales common to our waters. In the afternoon, it was a minke whale that was breaching in the harbor of Provincetown. Both of the day’s adventures also shared sightings of the smallest of the toothed whales common here, the harbor porpoise.
* April 29 was cold and windy. Several finback whales were seen within the bay. One was feeding deep beneath the surface, but you could keep track of its movements by watching the dozen or so laughing gulls that were tracking it. It got so that you could guess where it was coming to the surface by the way the gulls wheeled and banked around to hover low over the water. At one point, the finwhale let out a huge blast of bubbles that turned the water a neon green as they rose to the surface. There was also a very good look at a minke whale as it made its way out of Cape Cod Bay. Its linear track made it easier to follow and it allowed some beautiful looks at it broke the surface of the water with the point of its rostrum.
* In addition to the feeding finback whales, April 30, was also about toothed whales. Several hundred atlantic white-sided dolphins and a small pod of harbor porpoise thrilled the passengers of the Dolphin IX today, as they appeared to be feeding alongside their larger, baleen, cousins. It is fairly common to see the dolphins swimming with finback whales because the finwhales, when moving, push a lot of water ahead of them. The dolphins take advantage of that pressure wave to kind of get pushed through the water as a way to conserve energy. Also, both of these species of toothed whales feed primarily on the same species of small schooling fish that the finback whales feed on. Sand launce and herring, at this time of the year. And, many times can be seen darting in and out of the shoal of fish that the finwhale has concentrated for its own consumption.
* May 01 was a day of strong winds and rolling seas. For the comfort and safety of the passengers, the trips were cancelled today.
* The wind broke and allowed the Dolphin IX to venture out again on May 02. Throughout the day, five species of cetaceans and two species of pinnipeds were sighted. The feeding of the dolphins and finwhales had either continued, or resumed, since the last time the Dolphin IX went to sea, but the news today was the presence of the skim-feeding northern right whale by the Race Point Light. Plankton tows over the last several weeks confirm the continuing presence of large, dense patches of copepods within the bay and the surrounding waters. These tiny lobster-like animals are the primary food source for the 45 to 55 foot and 60 to 80 ton right whales despite the fact that they are roughly a quarter the size of a grain of white rice before you cook it.