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Naturalist’s Notebook – July 23, 2016 to July 29, 2016

“Amazing”, “Crazy”,  “Fabulous”, “Spectacular”, “Wonderful”, and “Extravagant” were some of the words used by Dolphin Fleet naturalists to describe the sightings of  feeding whales this week.

On July 23, Mike described the surfacing of a group of five finback whales that were feeding beneath the surface as “what a way to end the day!”  Though the actual lunge took place beneath the boat, the finners rose to the surface in front and on either side of the bow with water streaming from their still partially open mouths.  From the fly, you could clearly see the white undersides of the animals to the port as they rose.  Viewing from there, the lighter coloration of the right sides would be easily seen. Not as usual, the white undersides of the finbacks to the starboard were also visible because their rorqual pleats were so extended that the underside pigment spilled around the edges to be seen from above.

Ellie Moody also makes mention of lunging finbacks and even lunging minkes on this day.

Mark Gilmore’s report for the 24th begins, “Entire day turned into a feed fest.”  He describes Salt and her calf repeatedly racing into feeding groups.  He also says that Salt made a huge, “spectacular” bubble net with the widest edge of the spiral coming against the hull of the Dolphin X.  When she lunged through the densest part of the bubbles, her mouth was opened and pointed directly at the bow of the boat and only 10 feet away.  “Away ye vast array of sand eels,” he concludes.


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On July 25, Carolyn OConnor reports seeing, among nearly two dozen feeding humpbacks, one named Banyan that was kickfeeding so close to the boat that you could see the sand eels in his mouth.

Of July 27,  Mark, who has been whalewatching for over thirty years, wrote “This has got to be one of the most spectacular feed show days of my life.”  I know Mark.  For me, his words sum up something most of us can only dream about.  He says that, among the seventy-five to one hundred whales in view, there were several groups of five to seven humpbacks making cooperative bubble nets on either side of the bowsprit.  When the groups surfaced, they were between ten and fifty feet from the boat and their mouths were all open.


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Of this day, Dennis Minsky and Mike Bertoldi also report sightings of huge numbers of humpback whales.  Dennis calls it “a festival of feeding whales, [with] bubbles nets with 4,5,6 whales in them.”  Mike notes that Salt and her calf were working with a group of 6 or 7 other humpbacks, blowing a wide ring of bubble columns through which all of the adults would rise up, nearly vertically, closing their mouths just as they broke through the surface of the water.  The exception was Salt, who would keep her mouth open just a bit longer, allowing those that looked inside to see the slight irregularity of her pallet.


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On July 28, all four naturalists make notes of bubble systems that include ten or twelve humpback whales.  Dennis reports the sea to be “solid sand eels.”  Emily reports that the passengers of the Dolphin IX witnessed twenty humpback whales rising up through the same bubble net and Liz describes the repeated “motherload” of 21 individuals rising through bubble systems.

Other things happened this week, too.  On Saturday, the young passengers aboard the Dolphin IX got to get up close and personal with a number of Green Crabs.  Green crabs are apparently very abundant in Provincetown Harbor.  Even when I forget to bait the minnow trap that hangs from the one float, there are always green crabs to look at on Saturday morning.  My young passengers and I generally talk about what it might be like to have an exoskeleton.  What would it be like to move with knees that bent to the side instead of in the front?  What would it be like to have your eyes on stalks above your head?

Also, on the same Saturday trip, the young passengers and I talked about the pattern of coloration on the underside of a humpback whale’s tail.  We discussed how it could be used to identify the animal as an individual rather than just as a humpback, like a person’s facial features can be used to know who the person is.  And we talked about giving the whales names as a memory aid to bring information about that whale to mind when we see it in the field.  Then, to help them better understand the idea, the youngsters got to color their own humpback whale tails that we named on the way back to the harbor.  The three “whales”  we named were (and I hope I have them in the right order); Rainbow, Sand, and Snake.


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Sightings of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins were also made this week.  Large groups were reported on July 25 and a smaller pod was seen on the 26th.  The sighting on the 26th included calves that were so young that you could still see their fetal folds.