Monday, August 30, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Carly Hepburn

Test and photos coming soon.

Monday, August 29, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Carly Hepburn

Great Shearwater.

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Ventral tail pattern of Echo.

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Ventral tail pattern of Venom. The right tip of her flukes is missing.We made our way out of Provincetown Harbor, around the Cape and quickly picked up 2 humpback whales that were resting at the surface. These animals appeared to be logging which is a resting behavior when a whale shuts off half of their brain and the other half remains alert.  We were able to identify these individuals as Venom and Echo.  After watching these animals for a few surfaces, we decided to move on and head into an area where our captain had reports of a mother and calf pair.

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Blue shark.

As we made our way into that area we were able to come across a very exciting sight, a blue shark!  This was my first every sighting of a blue shark and it was quite incredible to see such good looks of this animals swimming just under the surface of the water.  Blue sharks are found worldwide but are typically only seen by divers because they are known to stay in deeper water.   They can grow to lengths of about 12 feet and are feeding on lobster, shrimp, small fish, and sometimes even seabirds.  We got good looks of this shark moving very slowly on the right hand side but surprisingly some experts believe they can reach speeds of 60 mph!

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Humpback surfacing with P’town in the background.

Our next sighting was of 3 humpback whales that including the mother and calf pair.  We were able to identify these 3 as Hancock, Hancock’s 2015 calf, and Perseid.  We watched this trio for a long time and even got to see a great look at the Hancock’s calf head or rostrum. There were a lot of recreational boats in the area so we decided to move on a find another sighting.

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Hancock and calf.

We were able to pick up the 2 humpback whales that we sighted earlier in our trip, Echo and Venom.  This time Echo and Venom came closer to the boats and we were able to get great looks of the underside of their fluke before we headed back home.

Hancock and calf.

Hancock and calf.

Before heading home, we stopped on one more pair which we identified as Nile and Pitcher. Both whales have very hooked dorsal fins, but Nile has a white spot on the right side of her dorsal fin. This makes it easy for us to identify her, even at a distance.

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Nile and Pitcher.

Monday, August 28, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

Text and photos coming soon.

Monday, August 27, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

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Balloon at the surface.

As we headed out of Provincetown Harbor towards Stellwagen Bank, we saw quite a lot of marine debris at the water’s surface. Marine debris like balloons are some of the most dangerous types of trash that is in our oceans. We always encourage passengers not to release helium balloons for any event or activity for they can travel great distance and they often land in someone else’s home or habitat. Many marine animals, like sea turtles and ocean sunfish, accidentally eat balloons and plastic bags for they look like jellyfish which comprises their main diet. If you want to release something for an event, try balloons or butterflies.

Convict and Canopy.

Our first whale sighting was a pair of humpback that we identified as Convict and Canopy. Both whales were feeding together, but not at the surface. There must have been a lot of bait on the southern end of the bank today for the whales were working hard each time they came to the surface to breath. Their explosive exhalations were a sign of hard work down below.

Canopy’s ventral tail pattern.

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Convict’s dorsal flukes. Notice the white parallel lines which are killer whale rake marks.

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Fluke out dive by Convict.

Our next sighting was a single humpback whale who had a very distinctive dorsal fin. This fin was very squarish in shape with few markings on either side. We will be analyzing these images through our connection with the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA) who will send all the sighting and photographic data collected onboard our boats to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Squarish dorsal fin.

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Fluke out dive by whale with squarish dorsal fin.

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Minke whale diving off our bow.

Also in this area were a number of minke whales, the smallest of all the baleen whales. Although not a slowly animal, this beautiful whale is commonly seen in our cold northern waters. Off our bow, we could see lots of splashing, a good indication that we had a feeding whale at the surface. This turned out to be Etch-a-Sketch, a female humpback whale that is the granddaughter of Salt, the most famous humpback in our waters.

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Etch-a-Sketch fluking off our bow.

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Kick feeding by Etch-a-Sketch.

Etch-a-Sketch kick feeding.

 

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Lifting the tail high as she kick feeds.

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Kicking.

 

Mouth open as Etch-a-Sketch lunges at the surface.

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Straining at the water’s surface.

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Satellite tag wound.

It was great to see Etch-a-Sketch do this very showy feeding behavior. At one point during our whale watch, Etch-a-Sketch surfaced off our bow, giving us a chance to see the old satellite tag wound on her left flank. The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies is conducting a satellite tagging research project on the humpback population in our coastal waters. You can go to their website and learn more.

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Looking into the mouth of the whale. The hairy baleen is now visible.

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Straining.

 

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Straining after lunging through the bubble net.

We saw many more whales including Cardhu and her calf of this year. An incredible whale watch for one and all onboard the boat today. I wonder what tomorrow has in store for us?

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Charging after the bait fish.

 

Monday, August 27, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

Monday, August 26, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Carly Hepburn

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Finback whale.

Humpback whale.

Humpback whale.

Ventral tail pattern of Convict.

Cajun and calf traveling together.

We headed offshore today and we were able to see three species of whales, two of which are endangered!  As we made our way around Provincetown Harbor and towards Race Point we quickly came into an area that had hundreds of seabirds and seagulls.  This is a very good indicator for us that the area is productive, because many of these birds feed on the same small schooling fish that our whales do.  We did not stay in this area for very long because we had reports of a group of humpback whales traveling together so we needed to get further offshore, however we did get some great looks of finback whales that could be seen all around the boat.  There was also a single minke whale in the area.

Off to our right, thanks to the sharp eyes of one of our passengers, we saw a blow from a single humpback whale.  We headed towards the blow and were able to watch this animal surface a few times before we continued further offshore

Cajun and her calf of this season.

Cajun and calf.

Our next sighting was of a single humpback whale that we were able to identify as a whale named Convict.  Through the data we collected we saw that once Convict arched his back and went down for a deeper dive he was only staying underwater for 3 minutes.  This was a good sighting for us to see because typically humpback whales spend 5-10 minutes underwater before resurfacing once again.  Convict was staying in the same location each time he resurfaced so we can assume that he was subsurface feeding, feeding on baitfish lower in the water column.

Ventral tail pattern of Pele.

After we left Convict we headed towards the group of humpback whales we had heard reports about earlier.  This group was a group of three and we identified them as Cajun, Cajun’s 2015 calf, and Pele.  For the past couple of weeks we have seen these 3 humpbacks traveling together along with another mother and calf pair, Jabiru and her 2015 calf.  Jabiru and her calf split from the group early this week, so it will be very interesting to see if they join back up again during the remainder of our season.

Splash.

Cajun and her 2015 calf.

Cajun’s calf got a little active and did a spinning head breach off of the left hand side of the boat.  Unfortunately we were not able to get a picture, but we did get a photo of the large splash caused by this animal heaving its body right out of the water!

All too soon we had to make our way back to Provincetown but we were able to get great looks of these amazing animals.  I would also like to give a huge thank you to Katrina Kleinhans who was the naturalist in training today and was on the microphone and educating passengers on the whales that we saw throughout our trip.

Kick feeding.

Monday, August 25, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

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Mixed flock of mostly shearwaters.

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Cory’s shearwaters and great shearwaters.

As we headed out of Cape Cod Bay and into Massachusetts Bay, we picked up large flocks of pelagic birds that were feeding at the water’s surface. Most of the birds were Cory’s and great shearwaters, but there were a number of Herring and Black backed gulls as well. It was great to see so much bait at the surface and we assumed that this bait was a small fish called sand lance that seems to be the favorite of most animals. There was also a number of helium balloons floating at the water’s surface. These types of marine debris are deadly to all marine animals, especially those that eat jellyfish. A deflated ballon that is losing its color looks like a tasty meal to many marine animals including ocean sunfish and leatherback sea turtles.

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Helium balloon.

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Great shearwater.

As we moved through this area, we picked up a few finback whales and minke whales. The images below show a finback whale just breaking the water’s surface to breathe. Finbacks are the only baleen whales that have a white lower jaw on the right side of the head. The left lower jaw is brownish like the majority of the animal’s body. Some of the finbacks were just off Race Point Beach. No worries that the animals will strand for there is a very steep drop-off less than 100 yards off the beach.

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Right side of a finback whale that is just about to surface.

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Right lower jaw of a finback whale. All finbacks have white lower jaws on the right side.

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Finback off Race Point Beach.

Also feeding deep just off Race Point Beach was a small humpback whale named Brine. Brine is the caught of Salt, the most famous whale in the world. It was great to see Brine and know that her mom is also in the area. However, once mothers and calves separate after the calves first year, we don’t often see these individuals spending time together. But the calves do remember our waters of the Gulf of Maine, and once they are weaned, will return to feed on their own inn our productive waters.

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Blow or spout by humpback whale Brine.

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Brine off Race Point Beach.

The star of the day was another relative of Salt’s. This time, we came across Etch-a-Sketch who is Salt’s granddaughter. Etch, as we call her for short, was born to a mom named Thalassa, who herself was the calf of Salt. Last year, Etch came back with her first calf. This made Salt a great grandmother. What a legacy Salt has. She is the first whale to receive a name in 1976 and her offspring are helping us better understand the life of the humpback whale.

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Etch fluking out.

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Etch kick feeding.

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Etch kick feeding.

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Ventral tail pattern visible as Etch kick feeds.

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Surface feeding by Etch.

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Etch straining at the surface with Pilgrim Monument in the backdrop.

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Etch straining or pushing the water back out.

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Etch straining .

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Straining.

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Etch straining.

It was fun to watch Etch-a-Sketch feeding mouth open at the surface. Surface feeding allows you to see the baleen that hangs down only from the upper jaw. The dark baleen on the outside edge is smooth, but the edge on the inside of the mouth is haired, creating a very good strainer. As Etch lunged mouth open taking in hundreds of gallons of water and fish, she then started to strain or push the water out. All whales can not process salt water, so must push the water back out.

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Ventral tail pattern of Etch.

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Fast surfacing by Etch.

After straining, Etch-A-Sketch will probably go back down to feed once again. Etch-a-Sketch is a very showy whale and appears not to be bothered by all the attention. And as we watched her kick 3 times and then go under the school of fish and start blowing bubbles to create a ring-like barrier.

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Etch kick feeding.

After leaving Etch-a-Sketch, we picked up a small humpback whale that was feeding a bit more to the east. Although we were not able to identify this individual humpback whales while at sea, we will be sending photos and sighting information to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. This nonprofit helps NECWA analyze the confirm all humpback identifications.

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Unknown humpback whale rolling as it dives deep.

Great trip offshore for one and all. Can’t  wait to get back on the boats soon!

Monday, August 24, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

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Common terns with sand lance.

As we headed offshore to the southern edge of Stellwagen Bank, within the boundaries of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, we came across a large flock of seabirds including Northern gannets, shearwaters (Cory’s, great, sooty, and manx), and common terns. These birds were diving into the water trying to catch sand lance, a small bait fish, that was close the surface. In the photo above, you can see that the tern on the upper left has a sand lance in its beak. These pelagic birds feed on the same small schooling fish as the large, baleen whales.

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Adult Northern gannet.

At first, we came into an area with at least 4 finback whales and 5 to 6 minke whales. Although different species of baleen whales, we often see finbacks and minkes feeding in the same areas. One finback whale had a very distinctive dorsal fin with a number of cuts and notches out of the trailing edge.

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Cut trailing edge of finback’s dorsal fin.

Minke whale.

We then came across a mother and calf humpback whale and were thrilled to see that this was Cardhu and her calf. The calf was being very playful at the surface while mom was feeding deep. Often the calf would leap out of the water in a behavior called a spinning head breach. Once the calf switched it up a bit and did a chin breach followed by flipper slapping.

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Cardhu’s calf flippering.

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Cardhu’s calf doing a spinning head breach.

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Cardhu’s calf finishing a spinning head breach.

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Another spinning head breach by Cardhu’s calf.

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The calf almost breaching on top of mom.

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Here is the calf breaching behind a pleasure boat.

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Cardhu’s calf doing a chin breach.

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The calf spinning head breaching.

When mom surfaced close to the calf, it was easy to see the size difference between individuals. Cardhu is an adult humpback whale who is close to 50 feet in length while the calf is still less than a year old and close to 20 feet long.

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Cardhu fluking out.

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Cardhu’s ventral tail pattern.

Cardhu and calf.

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Cardhu straining as she arches her back.

For the majority of the time that we watched this pair, mom was feeding deep. But soon mom was surfacing with mouth wide open as she lunged through bubble clouds. As other whale watching boats were coming into the area, we decided to move on. We picked up a logging (resting) humpback that we were not able to identify. This whale has a barnacle on the right side of its dorsal fin and very distinctive ventral tail pattern. We will be sharing these images with other researchers in the area in the hope of making a positive identification of this individual.

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Logging humpback whale.

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Ventral tail pattern of the loggin humpback whale.

Eventually, this whale also became active. Perhaps it was because of Cardhu’s calf, but hard if not impossible to say. Just a great way to end our trip offshore. As we moved slowly through the area on our way home, we saw many other finbacks, humpbacks, and minkes in the distance. Great day for all onboard.

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Flipper slapping.

Sunday, August 23, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Sammy Beynor

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Great shearwater.

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Juvenile Northern gannet.

On today’s trip offshore we headed to an area slightly North West of the South West corner of Stellwagen Bank. The bank and surrounding areas make up one of fourteen marine protected areas in the United States. This sanctuary is roughly 842 square miles and ranges between 6 miles wide and 19 miles long. The protection on this area requires that the bottom of the ocean not be disturbed. The bank creates upwelling, a process where cold oxygen rich water is forced to the surface. This, in combination with a healthy sandy bottom, allows for a large amount of life. The whales that we come to see every day spend some time here in Stellwagen Bank in order to access an incredible amount of food.

On our way to this area we encountered a large amount of seabirds. Seabirds often feed on the same small schooling fish as the whales do and sometimes lead us to where whales are. We began with numerous sightings of Shearwaters. The first type we saw was a Great Shearwater. These birds have a chocolatey brown back with a white ring around its neck and a black beak. We also saw occasional Cory’s Shearwaters, which lack the white ring and possess a yellow beak. We also got a few looks at Norther Gannets, particularly a few juvenile Northern Gannets. These beautiful birds are brown when young and later become almost entirely white, with a bit of yellow on their necks and black on their wing tips.

Shortly after we found a group of five humpback whales. Humpback whales are a medium sized whale roughly the size of a school bus. In the group we encountered today, we had three adults and two calves. This group has been seen together recently and was easy to identify.

Cajun.

The single whale in the group is named Pele. This adult gets its name after the soccer ball pattern on its fluke. One of the mothers is named Jabiru and the other is Cajun. Cajun has an almost all white tail, while Jabiru has an intermediate white and black tail. The two calves will not get names for a few years due to the fact that their fluke patterns are still developing.

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Cajun’s very white ventral tail pattern.

Cajun’s calf has a chunkier dorsal fin, similar to its mother. Jabiru’s calf has a similar dorsal fin to its mother as well. We got great looks at not only the adults but also the calves. The calves tended to spend more time at the surface and were very active, especially Cajun’s calf. We observed Cajun’s calf breaching, tail breaching, rolling and flipper slapping.

Calf rolling over and starting to flipper slap.

At one point the calves ventured further away from their mothers coming closer to investigate our vessel. Shortly after a flutter blow vocalization from one of the adults the calves returned to their mother’s sides. These calves will stay with their mothers until the fall where they will make the migrations down to the Caribbean separately.

Spinning head breach by a humpback whale.

Today’s trip gave us great looks at both many seabirds and whales. We got to see some incredible breaches, something that we see on less than 10% of our trips. Today was truly an amazing trip.

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Jabiru’s dorsal fin.

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Jabiru’s ventral tail pattern.

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Dorsal fluke of Pele.

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Pele’s dorsal fin.

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Pele’s ventral tail pattern. Notice small black dot on left side.

Saturday, August 22, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Carly Hepburn

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Chin breaching by a humpback calf.

With a slight chance of rain we headed offshore and were able to see three species of whales: humpback, finback, and minke whales. We saw a few quick surfacings of finback whales right off of Race Point which is an area where we have a had a lot of sighting of finback whales this past month. We didn’t stay in the area long because our Captain had reports of a group of 5 humpback whales traveling together so we needed to head further offshore.

Cajun, Jabiru, and one calf on the surface.

As we moved into the area of this group we had a quick glimpse of a minke whale, these whales are very elusive and typically we will only see them surface quickly before they disappear. As we got closer to our group of 5 humpbacks we were able to identify these individuals as Cajun and her calf, Jabiru and her calf, and Pele.

One of the calves doing a spinning head breach while Cajun flukes out.

Very quickly one of the calf’s’ began jumping right out of the water doing a spinning head breach. A spinning head breach is when an animal jumps out of the water, head first, twists their body, and lands on their side. After a few spinning head breaches the calf began doing chin breaches repeatedly. A chin breach is when a whale jumps out of the water, lunging forward, and lands at the surface of the water on its chin.

Calf chin breaching.

Calf chin breaching.

As the calf was breaching we were keeping track of how many times it would repeat this behavior. With our data we know that the calf did 18 spinning head breaches and 45 chin breaches! We were given an incredible show as this curious calf circled all around the boat. After looking through our pictures in many of these displays you can see the calf’s eyes wide open, doing an aerial survey of its surroundings. It’s amazing to see that when we come offshore to view these animals a lot of the times they are just as curious with us as we are with them!

Calf chin breaching.

Calf chin breaching.

We were also able to watch the adult’s surface as the two calves\ hung out waiting for them to come back up. Our group of whales stayed in the same area as they dove underwater so we can predict that they were subsurface feeding, feeding on baitfish lower in the water column.

Humpback whale Pele fluking out.

Jabiru and one of the calves fluking out together.

All too soon we had to leave the area and begin making our way back home but we were able to pick up one last sighting as we headed back to the harbor. This whale was a slightly smaller humpback and seemed to be a juvenile. As we approached the area the humpback began lobtailing and inverted lobtailing. Lobtailing is when a whale lifts their fluke/tail right our of the water and forcefully slaps it against the surface of the water. Inverted lobtailing is when the whale does the same behavior but is belly up.

Lobtailing.

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