Wednesday, September 9, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

Ocean sunfish

On today’s trip, we had great looks at a large ocean sunfish that was resting at the surface. This is the heaviest bony fish in the world and a common visitor to our cold and productive New England waters. Ocean sunfish migrate into our waters just like the big baleen whales, but instead of feeding on small fish, ocean sunfish feed on jellyfish, ctenophores, and other gelatinous critters.

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Ocean sunfish next to the boat.

The New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA) sponsors a community sighting network of ocean sunfish and basking sharks. They would love to hear about your sightings of these two coastal pelagic fish so go to www.nebshark to learn more.

 

 

 

Although we no longer hunt whales on a commercial basis, there still are many threats to their survival. One is getting hit by fast boats and another is getting entangled in fishing gear. As we waited for the sunfish to surface, we watched a recreational boat zooming right past a finback whale. Luckily the whale surfaced a good distance away from the boat, but it was a bit tricky there for a few seconds.

 

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Recreational boat zooming past a finback whale off Race Point Beach.

Next we moved into an area with quite a few humpback whales. Humpbacks are an endangered species of baleen whale that migrates into our waters to feed each spring, summer, and fall. It was great seeing so many whales in one small area.

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Humpback whale what the surface.

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Fluke out by a humpback whale.

 

As we slowly moved through the area, we saw a humpback fluke out right next to the boat. Times like these remind us of how very large and immense these gentle giants truly are.

Fluke out dive.

 

Many of the humpbacks in this area were small in size, indicating that they were juveniles or young individuals within the population. Since the beautiful black and white pattern on the ventral or bottom of the flukes acts like a fingerprint for this species, we are able to identify and track known individuals over the course of the season and from one season to the next.

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Fluke out sequence of Aswan. Image 1.

 

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Fluke out sequence of Aswan. Image 2.

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Fluke out sequence of Aswan. Image 3.

Many of the whales were feeding at or near the water’s surface. It was great to see mouth’s wide open as different whales all around our vessel were charging around after the bait fish. Enjoy the photos from the rest of our trip.

Humpback whale named Jungle. Jungle is straining at the water’s surface.

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Jungle surfacing just off our bow.

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Pivot surfacing off our starboard side.

Unknown humpback straining with birds all around.

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Finback whale.

Jungle straining or pushing the salt water back out of the mouth.

 

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Straining by Aswan and Draco.

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Open mouth feeding.

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Surface feeding right next to the boat on the port side.

Flipper slapping.

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Pivot lobtailing on the left while the calf is traveling slowly on the right.

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Kat Kleinham

Hancock and calf.

Today’s whale watch was beautiful! We started off our trip by coming across a number of finbacks off of Race Point. Finback whales have been in this area for weeks now and they’re so close to shore that even if you were to visit Race Point beach you would see tens of them. We made our way off shore heading to Stellwagen Bank where we came across many humpback whales showing very active behaviors.

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Spinning head breach.

Humpback whales usually dive beneath the surface for about 5 to 7 minutes and coming up for about 5 to 7 breaths. That wasn’t the case; they were only diving down to an average of three minutes and coming up for only a few breaths. This shows that they were probably diving for baitfish that was in the area. In the group we first came across, one of the humpback whales surprised us right in front of the boat with quite a splash of a spinning head breach!

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Humpback whale’s head.

Other whales were diving beneath the surface to feed or they were lunge feeding, or feeding mouth open at the surface. In the picture you can see one of the humpbacks finishing a lunge. Humpbacks will lunge forward mouth open at the surface and then close their mouths to strain all the water our through their baleen.

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Hancock, surfacing off our bow.

There were many humpbacks in the area all diving and either lifting their fluke or tail out of the water or not. Since the humpbacks were pretty distant, the most visible and clear part of the humpback was their dorsal fin. We explain on our trips that we can identify each individual whale by the pattern on the underside of their fluke but we can also do this by their dorsal fins. Each dorsal fin sits behind their head and on the whale’s back is shaped differently for each whale.

We always get the question on whether or not we tag the whales in order to track where they migrate too. The easiest way to track their movement patterns is by photo identification, just as I explained before. There have been research projects in which only a few number of humpbacks have been tracked with tags in order to visualize their movement patterns underneath the surface. What we see on our trips on the surface is only half the story of what these humpbacks!

Monday, September 7, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

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Race Point Light

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Off road vehicles on Race Point.

As we passed Race Point on our way offshore, we had a fabulous sighting of finback whales feeding in Race Rip. Four finbacks surfaced right next to the boat off our port side. This gave us an incredible view of the blaze and chevron, the pigmentations mainly on the right side of the head and body.

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Finback whale surfacing off our Port side.

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Blaze visible on the right side of the finback’s body.

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Long, torpedo-shaped body of the finback whale.

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Finback whale.

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Two finbacks at the surface.

Finbacks are the only species of type of whale that has an asymmetry to their body coloration. The right side of the lower jaw is white, while the left side of the lower jaw is grayish-brown like the rest of the animal. And like other baleen whales, finbacks have a unique size and shape to their dorsal fin which helps us identify individuals in the population.

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Right dorsal fin of the finback.

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Right dorsal fin of a second finback whale in this group.

As we continued north, we came into an area with 10 - 15 humpback whales. Most were feeding deep alone or in pairs. One pair turned out to be a mother and calf that I  haven’t seen all season, Pivot and calf. Both were traveling at the surface and were not associating with the other humpbacks in the area.

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Fluke out dive by Pivot.

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Ventral tail pattern of Pivot.

A small humpback was also on its own, and it had scars indicating it was recently entangled in fishing gear. There was a long and deep depression forward of the animal’s dorsal fin and the dorsal fin was very scarred. I sent photos of this animal to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies to assist in their disentanglement program.

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Humpback with deep depression forward of dorsal fin.

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Depression visible on right flank.

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Ventral tail pattern of humpback with entanglement scars.

As we held position for the whales in this area, I noticed a small shark swimming close to the boat on the port side. I think this is a blue shark, but we never got a really good look at the animal.

 

 

 

 

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Dorsal fin of blue shark.

The most exciting sighting was a trio that turned out to include Putter (a male) who joined Pivot and calf. This trio was very excited as they charged around the area for over a half hour. I have no idea what was going on for it seemed that this encounter was not a positive one. It seemed as if Putter was trying to separate the mother and her calf, and Pivot was having none of it.

 

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Pivot’s calf doing a chin breach.

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Pivot’s calf flipping its flukes out of the water.

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Pivot and calf. Calf is upside down thrashing with its flukes.

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Pivot and calf charging.

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Pivot’s calf thrashing next to Putter.

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Pivot’s calf charing.

At one point, Pivot breached out of the water and made a tremendous splash. That didn’t seem to calm things down as the trio continued to charge through the area. Just an incredible scene, one that I have never witnessed before offshore.

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Spinning head breach by Pivot.

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Putter.

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Fluke out dive by Putter.

Sunday, September 6, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

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Seabirds resting on the water.

We had a beautiful day offshore with light winds and great visibility. We moved onto the southern edge of Stellwagen Bank and found a large number of seabirds still in this area. Some were feeding at the surface while others were resting on the surface.

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Perseid’s 2014 calf showing gear scar on tail stock.

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Perseid’s 2014 calf showing abrasion caused by recent gear entanglement.

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Perseid’s 2014 calf.

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Perseid’s 2014 calf.

We passed a number of finbacks off Race Point as we headed north. Our first sighting was a small humpback who was later identified as Perseid’s 2014 calf. This young animal had cuts and abrasions on its tail stock and top of its flukes that had been caused by a recent entanglement. The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) recently disentangled this animal, but the wounds caused by the fishing gear are still evident. We sent photos and sighting information to PCCS for ID confirmation and to help them document the recovery of this animal after the event.

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Humpback off the backside of the Cape with Highland Light in the background.

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Ocean sunfish at the surface.

There were a number of humpback whales in this area as well as an ocean sunfish that was at the surface. Ocean sunfish are the heaviest bony fish in the world and they are common feeders in our cold Northern waters. It was great to see this fish as it floated on its side next to the boat.

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Banyan showing white scarring caused by past entanglement.

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Banyan fluking out.

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Tail breach by Banyan.

We picked up a larger humpback that we identified as Banyan. Banyan is also a survivor of an entanglement in fishing gear. The scars caused by the ropes and lines are clearly evident on this animal’s body, but the whale is doing very well regardless. Our last sighting was a whale named Spirit. Again, we thank PCCS for providing the ID’s of many of the whales that we say on today’s trip.

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Spirit logging at the surface. Nice look at the nostrils.

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Fluke out dive by Spirit.

 

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Spirit getting active at the surface.

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Spirit logging or resting at the surface.

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Spirit arching out.

Spirit was spending a lot of time on the surface just resting, in a behavior we call logging. At one point during the trip, Spirit surfaced right in the middle of a large concentration of seabirds. Neither Spirit nor the birds seemed to mind as they all seemed to mind their own business. Great trip today with amazing views of endangered whales, including finback whales, and humpback whales.

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Ventral tail pattern of Spirit.

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Minke whale surfacing off our starboard side.

Saturday, September 5, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

Text and photos to come.

Friday, September 4, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Carly Hepburn

Whale watch was canceled for this day due to inclement weather.

Thursday, September 3, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

Text and photos to come.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Kat Kleinhans

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Humpback whale fluking out off our bow.

Everyone had such an amazing day on the water! I spent my summer interning with the NEWCA and it was my first official day as a Naturalist so I was thrilled to have such an exciting day on the water. We started off our trip by coming up to a humpback whale who we couldn’t figure out who he/she was but had some very distinct scarring on the ventral side of their fluke. This humpback whale did go down for a deeper dive and then a few minutes later two other humpbacks, Owl and her calf surfaced right next to the bow of the boat!

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Ventral tail pattern of Owl’s calf.

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Ventral tail pattern of Owl.

Owl has a very large scar behind her blowhole that we guess is from being hit by another boat. As sad as this is, it is a very easy indication that the humpback whale we saw was Owl since we already know Owl has a large scar. Her calf was with her since mother’s and their calves stay together for one year. This is the longest lasting relationship of humpback whales. What’s interesting is that the humpback whale that we first saw was Owl’s calf! Maybe this calf is straying away from mom a little bit?

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Healed gash visible on Owl’s upper back.

After leaving Owl and her calf, we came up to three other humpback whales including Samara and Angus. We didn’t know who the other humpback whale was but all three of these humpbacks were socializing. Angus was flipper slapping on his side and we had a very nice view.

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Ventral tail pattern of Angus.

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Angus flippering.

Some of the passengers who were on trip with us came over to Provincetown from Plymouth on the ferry in the morning and came back with us in the afternoon. These lucky passengers were able to see a minke whale doing something very uncommon. The minke whale was riding the wake of our boat! Being very close to even the smallest baleen whale definitely didn’t let us mistake this whale for a dolphin

Tuesday, September 1, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

Monday, August 31, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

text and photos to come.

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