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Naturalist’s Notebook: June 07 to June 13.

One of the five species of whale commonly seen in the waters surrounding Cape Cod at this time of year is the humpback whale.  Humpback whales are moderately sized baleen whales.  Between thirty-five and fifty feet in lenth,  they usually weigh about a ton per foot.  Once you get close enough, you notice that they are built very much like American footballs;  rather rounded in the middle and pointed on both ends.  They have, located about two-thirds of the way down their broad backs, a dorsal fin that exhibits a wide degree of size and shape, from individual to individual.  The head is covered with series of bumps, called tubercles.  These are mounds of fat that contain hair follicles.  As mammals, whales do have hair.  They loose most of their hair prior to birth.  The hair that remains to humpback whales grows out of these tubercles.  Extending from each tubercle is a single hair, like the wisker of a cat, that might allow the whale a certain tactile sense.  They might allow the whale to sense things like motion in the water around it, water currents, and maybe even the interface between the water and the air when they are coming to the surface to breathe.  On either side of its body, where we would have arms and hands, the humpback whale has very long, flexible pectoral flippers.  These are about a third of the lenth of the body and are used to steer.  Whales swim by using their tails and steer using their flippers.   Having very long, flexible flippers makes humpback whales extremely manuverable animals.  Most of the humpback whales in the North Atlantic have white colored flippers, however, most of the ones in the North Pacific have dark colored flippers.


This week was a very exciting week on the water, beginning with the trips on June 7.  It was on this day that Mark Gilmore reported sighting a mother and calf finback whale pair, again with an escort.  Twice in one week!!!  He also reported that the humpback whales seen on the SouthWest Corner of Stellwagen Bank were not taking the time to blow bubbles or kick.  They were just lunging full force through shoals of sand-eels.  He says that no birds had the time to get close because there was only the momentary leap of numerous sand-eels before the humpbacks lunged through them with enough force to nearly breach from the water as they lunged through the surface with opened mouths. Several times, one lunged more on its side and 2/3s of the whale’s body became airborne.


D9_Humpbacks lunging

On June 8, both John Conlon and Carolyn OConnor reported seeing breaching humpback whales.  John, reporting from the Dolphin 9, reported tail-breaching.  That is when the whales throws the back end of its body out of the water.  Carolyn, from the Dolphin 8, reports full breaching (the whale launches itself head-first from the water, usually bringing quite a large amount of its body with it into the air).


Breach-Humpback Calf-D8

Again, on June 10, it was mostly a humpback whale day.  Carolyn OConnor reported a nursing mother and calf pair from the Dolphin 10 and Dennis Minsky reported logging, flippering, and breaching from the Dolphin 9.


On June 11, the humpback whales were a bit more involved in the trip.  On three of today’s trips, the humpback whales allowed their natural curiosity to take over and approach the boats for a better look.  Dennis Minsky reports from the Dolphin 9 that, at one point, one of the whales passed beneath the boat and turned upside down and that, later in the day, the passengers enjoyed a quick shower of whale breath.  Carolyn OConnor, reporting from the Dolphin 10, says that two very curious humpback whales stayed with the boat for at least fifteen minutes, looking at them and spyhopping and rolling over.


In addition to the humpback whales on June 12, a number of harbor seals were sighted.  One young seal was overcome by its curiosity and made directly for the Dolphin 10.  Others were noted as well.  But, again, today it was the large number of humpback whales that kept the passengers enthralled.  Dennis Minsky, reporting from the Dolphin 10, says that while Spoon and her calf were logging, the calf rolled over, lifted one of its flippers out of the water and “waved” it about, and appeared to nuzzle its mother.  Carolyn OConnor reported that a humpback was seen by the passengers of the Dolphin 9 playing with a pizza box.


Spoon and her calf were of great interest on June 13.  Nancy Scaglione-Peck says that while Spoon was doing a lot of “sleeping.” her calf kept busy spyhopping and flippering.  At one point, she says, the calf repeatedly was slapping its mother on the back.