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Naturalist’s Notebook: August 23 to August 29

In addition to the Green Crabs observed by the passengers on this Saturday’s morning trip, there were also a number of small minnow-like fish  that may have been a number of things and an incredible look at a Lion’s Mane Jellyfish.

With some specimens being over eight feet in diameter and two feet thick, the Lion’s Mane is the largest of the jellyfish.  Its color varies with age (and size).  A jelly up to five inches in diameter would most likely be pink or yellow.  Between five and eighteen inches in diameter, you would expect it to be red to yellowy-brown.  Larger than that, the animal would be a darker red-brown.

Jellyfish D8Jellyfish D8

Lion’s Manes float near the surface and are found in the North Atlantic from the Arctic to Florida and Mexico.  They are also found in the North Pacific between Alaska and Southern California.

Even from above, like from the deck of the boat we saw this one from, you can see the dense clusters of tentacles.  They will number around a hundred and fifty and are used to put prey into a kind of paralysis before bringing it back to the mouth on the underside.

This creature is highly toxic.  Contact with the tentacles produces severe burns and blistering.  Muscle cramps and difficulty breathing follow prolonged exposure.

August 23 and 24 were two days of fog that lifted from time to time to reveal some really good sightings.  On the 23rd,  most of the naturalists report that the whales they came in contact with were the group of five that have been together for weeks.  Pele, Cajun and her calf, and Jabiru and her calf.  Reports from this day’s breaks in the fog are loaded with observations of breaching calves.  And not just breaching.  Flippering, lobtailling, and tailbreaching were also mentioned frequently.    On the 24th,  the holes in the fog were a wonderful place to find mother and calf pairs in calm waters.  In the morning, the calm waters yielded fantastic views of both Cajun and Jabiru, along with their calves.  Jabiru’s youngster spent time very close alongside the Dolphin X showing the passengers what her mother had taught her about surface-active behavior.  Every other trip this day posts their views of a finback whale and her calf as the highlight of the trip.

100_9659 humpback epic breach 1  100_9660 humpback epic breach 2 tail breach1 elephant and unk m and calf flippering_7-7_IMG_9450

On August 25, 26, and 27, the big news was the huge numbers of finback whales spotted between Wood End and the Coast Guard Station at Race Point. Most trips report watching these animals feed beneath clusters of shearwaters, gulls, and terns.

Fin whale_close to shore_D8 Fin whale_right chevron_D8




Humpbacks were seen feeding on these days too, but the frenzy of the finbacks was far more consistent.  Breaching was again seen.  Not just the humpback calves today, though.  A minke whale was also observed reaching for the sky.

breaching minke_D10

On the 26th, Ellie notes that there was “an amazing concentration of shearwaters and other birds along the inside between RP [Race Point] and Wood End.  The birds were surface feeding over a school of bluefish that were 30 feet below driving the bait to the surface.”  And the finbacks were working the area around them.

Fin whale with birds

The end of the week appeared to be once more about feeding humpback whales.  There were times when the adults would be feeding deeper down, but these were when the calves had time to play at the surface.  Most of the sightings during these days, however, were of adults feeding near  the surface.

100_9505 Open mouth humpback D9_Humpbacks lunging PIANO KICK FEEDING_9-22_IMG_3028 bubbles bubble net

The 29th also saw another breaching minke whale.  This one, rather than breach just long enough to get the attention of the passengers, continued to breach eighteen to twenty times after the Dolphin VIII arrived.  This is just one of the photos the naturalist was able to take.

Breaching Minke D8