July 12, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Sammy Beynor

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Galactic’s ventral tail pattern.

This Sunday’s whale watch trip offshore allowed us to experience high weather temperatures as well as high numbers of whales. We began our trip during this beautiful warm and sunny day with a large amount of sightings of humpback whales all within a few miles of one another. Humpback whales are a medium size whale about the size of school bus. Also known as Megaptera noveangliae, or “big winged New Englander, humpback whales have large pectoral or front flippers. Here on the East coast they are typically white in color. Humpback whales are present in the Gulf of Maine during our later spring, summer and fall seasons due to the large amount of bait fish in the area. While here in New England they are constantly feeding on fish such as the American Sandlance, mackerel and herring.

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Humpback whale Jenga.

On the water today, we got to see just how plentiful the bait currently is. The photo below is of a large collection of bait, American Sandlance, which surrounded our boat. These animals were heavy in concentration causing most of the whales to be actively feeding in this area.

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Whale with very black ventral tail pattern.

As we approached the area, we began to observe multiple blows all around us. The blow is the exhale of the whale and appears to look like a puff of smoke. The warm air being released from the whale meets the cold ocean air and condenses forming a cloud-like appearance.

We were able to get great looks at a large amount of humpback whales in the area. We estimate that we observed roughly around 25 humpback whales. We spent time with as many individuals as we could in order to get a look at the underside of their tail, also known as the fluke. Each humpback whale has a unique pattern in this area that can be identified similarly to human finger prints. Below are some of the humpbacks we were able to identify. One individual had major scars on both its left flank and tail. This whale’s injuries were most likely caused by a propeller from another boat. Boat strikes and propeller wounds are one of the leading causes of whale injury and death and is a major problem for our large baleen species.

Because of the large amount of bait in the area we were able to observe special feeding behaviors. We observed open mouth feeding at the surface for many of the whales surrounding our vessel. We got great looks at the baleen, the keratin plate-like structure that acts as a filter mechanism. We observed bubble net feeding in which a single whale or multiple whales blow bubbles under the surface to create a net like structure, causing the bait to collect in the middle. Following this action, the whales will move up through the bubble net, mouths open, to catch the fish. We also observed one humpback whale that was very aggressively chin-kick feeding.

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Pleats.

In addition to the many humpbacks we saw, we also encountered two other species of baleen whales. We got quick looks at a fin back whale in the distance. Finback whales are the second largest animal on the planet and can move at very fast speeds, easily outrunning our vessel. We were able to see the back and dorsal fin of a large individual. In addition, we also found two minke whales. Minke whales are the smallest species of baleen whales and possess thick white stripes on their pectoral flippers. We got a close up look at a minke that was nearby the boat.

Today’s whale watching trip was incredible and allowed us to see a variety of whales. Not only did we see many species but we also got to see how different each individual can be.

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