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Naturalist’s Notebook: July 11 to July 17

* This was a big week for whalewatching around Stellwagen Bank. Some forty or so humpback whales continue to make their living feeding on the small, schooling fish that seem to be quite plentiful there this season. Among the individuals sighted this week were; Ivory, Thicket, Canopy and her 2014 calf, Reaper and her 2014 calf, Bayou, Rapier, Apex, Putter, Peninsula, Samara, Pivot, Milkweed and her 2014 calf, Dyad, Cardinal, Palette, Zap, Nimbus, Pele, Eruption, Storm, Angus, Freckles, Draco, Wyomng, Echo and her 2014 calf, Tornado and her 2014 calf, Jabiru, Perseid and her 2014 calf, Pepper, Firefly, Cajun, Cygnus, Salt and Epsom, Nile and her 2014 calf, Infinity, Fern, Gunslinger, Habenero, Agassiz, Springboard, Aswan, Abrasion, Warrior, Buckshot, Monster, Etch-a-sketch and her 2014 calf, Sprinkler, Storm, Pumba, Ganesh and her 2014 calf, Jumanji, Dome, Pleats, Rocker, Rune, Baja, Centipede, Nuages, Barb, Shimmer, and Tear.

* July 11 started with a look at the Charles Morgan, under sail.


* And, if you are not one of those impressed by boats, there were also three species of baleen whale spotted today. Several minke whales were seen today. Sleek and streamlined, these animals would have looked small from the deck of the hundred foot or so vessel in the huge amount of water they would have been seen in, however, they are quite a large animal, weighing several tons more than an african elephant. In addition, more than half a dozen finback whales were sighted. Like the minkes, they are sleek and streamlined. Unlike the minkes, they appear very large, even from the humdred foot vessels. They are, in fact, the second largest animals ever to have lived on earth. As far as humpback whales are concerned, some trips reported seeing nearly two dozen, most of which were actively feeding. The exceptions to this were almost all calves. It was a good day to see the calves. Not having to worry about looking for fish or corralling it into tighter balls, the calves have the day to just amuse themselves. Today, several of them did so by taking a good look at whalewatch boats. Several of the trips reported calves coming to the sides of the boats and spinning around and, even, spyhopping (lifting the front of the face out of the water while oriented vertically).

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* All of this, of course, was while the adults were busy feeding. Numerous feeding behaviors were enjoyed today, including the creation of bubble clouds, intricate bubble nets, and spirals of bubble columns. Also, the phenomenon called kick-feeding, where the whale comes to the surface after blowing its bubbles and slaps the surface of the water with its tail a number of times before diving back down beneath the school of fish, was often witnessed.

* The highlight of the day, though, probably was seen by the passengers of the Dolphin 9. On the boat’s evening trip, the guests and crew alike were treated to 7 or 8 breaches from a humpback calf.

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* July 12 was a beautiful day for whalewatching. Flat seas and a sunny, blue sky put a smile on your face before you ever got on the boat. And then, being surrounded by feeding humpback whales could only add to the joy. But today was not just about feeding. There was more unusual activity as well. For example, one of the calves seen today was observed flipper-slapping (or flippering). This is when the animal rolls onto its side and lifts its pectoral flipper out of the water and slams it back down on the surface. With adults, it is thought to play a role in communication, to be a grooming exercise, and, in the mating ground, it is a way to tire out rivals for the attention of a female. Among calves, it is more likely to be play behavior and exercise.

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* Once you have eaten and exercised, then it is time to rest. With humpback whales, rest commonly comes in the form of logging, just floating along at the surface of the water allowing the lighter density of your blubber to keep you afloat while you allow one side of your brain to be shut down. This is called logging.


* The feeding behavior of July 13 was a little subdued. What was not was the breaching of the calves. Breaching humpback whale calves were reported by almost every trip today. A breach is any time the animal throws part or all of its body up out of the water. Like the flippering of yesterday, it is thought to be exercise, play behavior, communication, and grooming.


* And we should have another look at the Charles Morgan.


* Or two.


* There was a lot of movement on July 14. Large numbers of whales were reported by nearly every trip (a dozen and a half to nearly three dozen humpback whales). Most of the sightings throughout the day were of whales travelling. Early on, there was some logging, but most of the day the whales were seen moving around, likely looking for spots where the schooling fish was the thickest. In the evening, though, big groups of humpback whales were found (with a fog closing in) feeding deep beneath the surface. Beautiful, close looks were had at these animals while they were at the surface.

* Four whalewatch naturalists report a huge day of feeding on July 15. Most of the reports are of large groups of humpback whales working cooperatively and coming up through the same bubble system. Some reports say there are groups of as many as nine whales in a single bubble system.


* ON THE BOW_7-12-14_IMG_8768

* If those photos don’t do something for you, nothing I can add will.

* Despite the rain and, at times, heavy downpours, July 16 turned out to be a fantastic day to whalewatch. If you could brave the wet conditions, you were rewarded with the array of humpback behaviors. The two mentioned most often by the naturalists on the water today were breaching and curious boat approaches. It is hard to say which of the two gives you a better look at the whale. When they breach, more of their body is above the surface and visible to the eye, but when they are curious and just surfacing on either side of the boat, they are close and they are moving slow.

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* Which do you think gives a better look?

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* July 17 started as a restful day for the humpback whales around the coast of Cape Cod. But, as morning turned to afternoon, the feeding behavior began again.

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* If a picture is worth a thousand words, I should need say no more.