- Research & Education
- Cape Cod
* A swell from the East-southeast and a chop from the Northwest made October 11 a day of big, bouncy fun. Some minke whales were seen in the morning, but in the afternoon, the Dolphin IX came to a stop on what looked like a very light, wispy spout. We waited for nearly seven minutes before the animal returned to the surface. When it did, we found that not only had we found a young humpback whale, we had also found its mother. The small animal was the 2013 calf of a female named Orbit, the ninth that she has been photographed with since she was first sighted in 1979. Lifting her flukes from the water, she led her calf into the depths.
* Though the calf returned to the surface every five or so minutes, Orbit didn’t return to view until nearly fourteen minutes had passed. When she finally did, though, bubbles followed her up. She was actively engaged in making her living, feeding on small, schooling fish at some depth beneath the surface. Numerous times, the passengers watched as she arrived at the surface just moments before the green discoloration in the water that explained why she had spent so much time below.
* And, while we watched Orbit and her calf, another humpback, that we had seen a bit in the distance, crossed the bow of our vessel and continued on to the east. It did not lift its flukes but, from the photos of its dorsal, it was identified as Palette.
* October 12 and October 13 were blustery days that kept the vessels of the Dolphin Fleet safely secured to their floats.
* There were some very good looks at minke whales on October 14, including one that was very large and moving in pretty much a straight line (in itself odd for a minke). But the day was made by the moderate sized pod of common dolphins that were found in the morning under bright skies and glass calm seas. These animals were not to be bothered by the presence of the Dolphin VIII. No, they were way to involved with each other. Continually rubbing against each other as they moved alongside us and, occasionally swimming belly to belly, these animals were being more than just a little social. This was courtship behavior. And, much like right whales, when dolphins are thus engaged, they don’t pay any attention to what’s going on around them. The passengers were thus treated to some of the most fantastic views of common dolphins of the season.
* A little later in the morning, the Dolphin IX had a spectacular encounter of her own. A blue shark, rather than being timid and dropping deeper at the vessel’s approach, stayed at the surface and swam up and down the length of the boat. It spent more than five minutes visible just beneath the surface, wowing the passengers and the crew alike.
* Wow! October 15 was a big day for variety. A harbor seal was a little interested in the boat, looking directly at us and rolling over onto its back. On ocean sunfish swam up one side of the vessel and then, after the boat spun around a bit, down the other. Several minke whales afforded the passengers excellent looks. And a slow moving finback whale demonstrated how truly big the second largest animal ever to have lived on this planet can be.
* The highlight of the day, however, would definately have been the large pod of 10 or 20 harbor porpoise that were spotted in the morning. They were easy to keep track of because of the flat seas. The pod included several (at least three) mother and calf pairs. They behaved very much like porpoise, changing direction beneath the surface and heading away from the vessel while visible, but the flat seas and the amount of time they spent at the surface made this the porpoise sighting of the season (and this naturalist’s sighting of a career).
* Wednesday, October 16, was foggy. Visibility wavered in and out. An ocean sunfish was spotted in the bay, as were plunge diving gannets. Also plentiful were the common terns, knifing through the surface of the water in their search for sand eels. And where you have feeding terns, you usually have parasitic jaegers, loudly and aggressively challenging the terns for their catch.
* Once outside the bay, a single grey seal and a minke whale were seen off of Race Point Station.
* The trip begins with, “Ready on the Spring.” In that way, the 17th of October was just like any other day. And the spectacular looks of the ocean sunfish and the bluefin tuna and the piles of terns, gulls, and gannets all just beyond the Race, in addition to the millions of small sand eels, would have stood out in any naturalist’s mind.
* But today was going to be different in a very big way!
* Past the Race, working toward the station, a big splash was seen to the eight oclock of the Dolphin VIII. Another. Too big to be a fish. A third, this one with a dark body in it. A breaching minke whale? Several more splashes. This animal has a triangular dorsal with some white markings on its trailing side. Could still be a minke with an injury. Another splash. A flash of white on the side of the whale. A Dahl’s porpoise? Never saw one of them. But bigger than I would have expected. Another couple of splashes before we got close.
* In front of us now. We can see the white saddle on the animal’s back through the water now. A second saddle passes the bow of the boat. The animals surface heading away from us, allowing us to see the tall dorsal of the second animal. Did we find orcas, finally? No, they are parallel to us now and the one with the larger dorsal has a distinctly falcate dorsal that is too narrow to be a pilot whale.
* The two animals move around very much like harbor porpoise. Only 2 or 3 breaths at the surface before going down. Changing directions frequently and usually angling away from the boat.
* It took a while to figure out what we were seeing. In fact, we radioed other whalewatch boats, looking for answers. What it really took was a good photograph of the second whale. WHITE-BEAKED DOLPHINS. My first such dolphins. I like to think that the passengers were as awestruck as I was. In truth, I can’t be sure.
* White-beaked Dolphins are typically seen in groups that range in size between five and fifty. The females are up to 9 feet long and 680 pounds and the males are about 10 feet and 770 pounds. Pods appear to be segregated into age groups, with juveniles forming separate groups from adults with calves.
* Cape Cod is thought to be the southern limit of their range on the western side of the Atlantic, with France its counterpart in the east. The eastern and western atlantic populations show a great deal of dimorphism so they probably do not interact very often. They feed on small schooling fish, larger bottom-dwelling fish like cod, haddock and whiting, and on crustaceans and octopods.
* The western atlantic population has shrunk quite a bit since the 1970’s, but he population of the eastern north atlantic appears to be growing.
* A rarer sighting than the social interactions of the common dolphins earlier this week.