Friday, August 7, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

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Curious humpback surfacing off our bow.

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Rainbow from a curious humpback whale.

Our first sighting was a pair of young humpbacks that were resting at the surface. As we slowly approached, both whales became very curious about us and came right over to the boat. We call this a “close approach.” As the whales circled the boat, one of the individuals stuck his chin out of the water in a behavior called a spy hop. This helps the whale’s see above the surface of the water since their eyes are set back on their heads, very low down by the corner of their mouth.

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Spy hop from a curious humpback whale.

We left this pair and picked up a small group of humpbacks that included a whale named Bayou. Bayou is an easy whale to identify since she has lost much of the right side of her flukes. From the slices that remain, it is clear that she was hit by the propellor of a large vessel. Vessel collision are a great danger to all marine wildlife, especially whales since they spend a lot of time at or near the surface. Bayou survived the encounter, but not all whales are so fortunate.

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Bayou fluking out.

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Calf tail breaching.

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Tail breaching by a calf.

Also in this group was a very active calf. We assumed that this was Hancock’s calf since Hancock was deep feeding in the area. This calf is still nursing from its mom, so will spend a good deal of time at the surface while mom is busy down below. The calf breached out of the water tail first in a behavior we call tail breaching. Then the calf rolled over and lifted its flippers out of the water doing a behavior called flipper slapping. It was wonderful to see such a playful and energetic calf up close and personal. Given the fact that humpback whales are listed as an endangered species, this calf represents the future hope of the humpback whale population in our waters, the waters of the Gulf of Maine.

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Flippering by a calf.

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Cajun and calf.

Cajun and her young calf were also in this area, but the calf was staying tight to mom. Cajun is an individual that is easy to recognize for she has a very white tail with 3 vertical black dots on the right side. Her calf has a much hazier ventral tail pattern which will not become more permanent in coloration until the whale is at least 3 years old. We now wait until the calf is 3 to 4 years old before providing the animal a name, and that gives the pattern a chance to “firm-up” and become a more permanent fingerprint of sorts.

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Whale defecation (poop)!

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Perseid and Cajun.

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Cajun’s calf fluking out high.

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Cajun’s calf flippering.

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Cajun’s calf flippering next to Perseid.

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Humpback whale next to reddish poop.

Another female who does not have a calf this season was also in the area. This is Perseid and she had a calf last year. Watching our mothers offshore we have learned that mom’s tend to have a calf every 2 to 3 years. So we don’t expect to see Perseid with another calf for at least another year or two. But we did notice Jabiru and her calf of this season. Also a very playful individual as the calf rolled over exposing his or her belly as it lifted its flippers out of the water.

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Jabiru’s calf flippering.

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Jabiru’s calf flippering.

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Canopy’s ventral tail pattern.

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Jabiru and Canopy fluking out.

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Pete’s left dorsal fin.

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Pele’s ventral tail.

Canopy and Pele were also in the area as they were feeding deep. At one point in time, we had at least 15 humpbacks in our area all feeding or cavorting at the water’s surface. How lucky are we in New England to get such amazing views at endangered animals like humpback whales. And to see the calves so playful at the surface gives us hope for this next generation. Lets all work hard to keep our oceans clean and healthy not just for us, but for all living creatures that call the ocean home.

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