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Naturalist Notebook –July 25 to July 31

July 25 started off with high winds and rough seas but these turbulent conditions faded fast. Although the winds were 17-20 knots and the sea was full of motion in the morning, the whales were conducting their finest in acrobatics. Off  Peaked Hill several humpback whales were lob tailing, breaching and flipper slapping!


In the afternoon the winds and seas calmed and a pod of Common dolphins was found leaping and splashing, just off Highland Light.

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Many minke whales were also seen close to shore along with flipper slapping adult humpback whales.

Over a dozen humpback whales were seen on July 26 along with 9 minke whales. In the morning the humpbacks appeared to be bottom feeding as they were going on numerous high-fluking dives, which usually indicates deep diving, and were spending a long time at the surface following a dive bout. Many of the whales surfaced with fresh wounds on the side of their heads that were likely caused by scooping up sand lance from the sandy seafloor (photo below). The humpbacks formed small temporary groups of 2-3 individuals for feeding purposes (e.g., Dome and Aswan). Dozens of marine birds (e.g., manx, great, and cory’s shearwaters and laughing gulls) followed the humpbacks, perhaps hoping to scrounge up a fish or two. A grey seal was also seen close to the boat, chomping on some fresh-caught fish.


In the afternoon the whales began surface feeding. Several humpbacks, including Aswan and Dome (photo below) emerged through their bubble nets with wide open mouths–full of fish and water. As the whales surfaced with mouths open wide, their hundreds of plates of baleen were clearly visible.


There were also moments of playful activity. Most notable was Dome and her calf who breached simultaneously beside the boat!

The Dolphin Fleet didn’t have to travel far on July 27 as humpback and minke whales were seen just off Race Point (the mouth of Cape Cod Bay). The humpbacks were putting on a tremendous feed show near Peaked Hill in the morning and early-afternoon with kick-feeding and bubble nets. The whales also appeared to be feeding cooperatively as several humpbacks would create a single bubble net around a large school of sand lance and then surface together through the light-green water with open mouths. Hundreds of marine birds aggregated near the feeding whales. Several birds, including a few laughing gulls, were seen with sand lance in their bills. Some birds were also seen ‘hitching’ a free ride (photo below).

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Towards the end of the day the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies’s research vessel, R/V Shearwater, was seen tagging humpback whales off Race Point. This research project is seeking to understand the potential health effects of equipping humpback whales with satellite tags (used to monitor the habitat use of individual animals).

The feeding frenzy continued on July 28. The Dolphin Fleet traveled up to the Southwest Corner of Stellwagen Bank and found 8 humpback whales engaged in surface feeding behaviour in the morning. The whales were bubble feeding sporadically, indicating that their prey was likely patchily distributed. By the afternoon, 15-20 humpback whales had begun feeding and 350-400 shearwaters (mostly sooty shearwaters) had arrived. It was an amazing day to be out on the water.


Large numbers of humpback whales (30 individuals) were seen on July 29 just off Peaked Hill. This time, the whales had formed larger groups of ~7 individuals for feeding purposes. The whales were using bubble nets to concentrate their prey and were surfacing with open mouths (a sure sign their prey is located near the sea surface). Thousands of marine birds flocked to the area where the whales were feeding and the first pomarine jaeger sighting was made! Pomarine jaegers are pelagic birds that forage near upwellings and boundaries of currents where their prey is likely to concentrate. In the late-afternoon the whales finished feeding and some individuals began flipper slapping (photo below).


The sea conditions were ideal for whale watching on July 30 as there was only a slight breeze and calm seas. Over a dozen humpback whales were seen along with 7 minke whales, 2 grey seals, 1 harbour seal, and a small pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins! Vertex and her calf were found just off of Race Point feeding at the surface. Since the calf was likely still supplementing its diet by nursing, it had some spare time on its hands and was displaying playful behaviours such as chin breaches. Meanwhile, Vertex was creating bubble nets to catch her prey and was surfacing with a wide-open mouth. Habenero and her calf were also engaged in active behaviours, such as breaching and flipper slapping (photos below).



Four cetacean species were observed on July 31. In the morning 12 humpbacks, 8 minke whales and 1 fin whale were observed–several of these animals were found just off Race Point. A small group of humpbacks began surface feeding with bubble nets, open mouths and dragging. The feeding group included three well known humpback whales–Pogo, Fracture and Springboard. Pogo definitely stood out from the rest as she would turn onto her right side upon surfacing through the bubble net, lifting her left fluke out of the water. In the afternoon, the winds picked up and the whales changed gears. At least 6 different humpbacks displayed spinning breaches, chin breaches and tail breaches (photo below) during the late afternoon.