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Naturalist Notebook – April 6 to April 12

High winds on April 6 meant no whale watch trips, but on April 7, the winds subsided enough for the Dolphin IX to venture out into Cape Cod Bay, where at least six endangered North Atlantic right whales were spotted and viewed from a safe distance (Federal regulations prohibit approaches closer than 500 yards). A fin whale, the second largest animal in the world, was also spotted among the waves.

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On Monday, April 8, the Dolphin IX and her crew brought passengers out to Race Point, the northernmost extent of Cape Cod, and were rewarded with a greater diversity of sightings, including a right whale, three fin whales, a minke whale, a humpback whale, and a harbor porpoise. A mother and calf fin whale were among the day’s highlights – fin whale calves are seen far less than those of humpback whales.

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The unique pigment patterns on the mother’s right flank and across her back, called a blaze and chevron respectively, were documented and will be used to match her to a catalog of individually identifiable fin whales.  Her calf, its patterns still developing, surfaced alongside her to the delight of passengers and crew alike.

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On April 9, another trip out to Race Point yielded sightings of several right whales, which feed on dense patches of zooplankton in and around Cape Cod Bay in winter and spring.  Lipid-rich copepods, small crustaceans about half the size of a grain of rice, are among the preferred prey sieved from the water by feeding right whales.  Three fin whales were also spotted.  A lone humpback whale, identified as Condor, first seen in 1998 but of unknown age or sex, was sighted as well.

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On Wednesday, April 10, the seas were the calmest yet and the Dolphin IX was able to venture up to the southern edge of Stellwagen Bank, where passengers were rewarded with the sight of four baleen whale species (fin, minke, right and humpback whales), two toothed whale species (white-sided dolphins and harbor porpoise), and a pair of harbor seals.

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Sadly, eager whale watchers would have to wait a few more days to get offshore, as high winds on April 11 and 12 meant the Dolphin IX would remain tied to the dock.