July 23, 2015 - Naturalist Krill Carson


Cory’s shearwater and Wilson’s storm petrel.

As we left P’town for the southern edge of Stellwagen Bank, we started to pick up large numbers of seabirds , including Cory’s shearwaters and Wilson’s storm petrels. This is a good sign since these birds feed on the same small schooling fish that the whales feed on.


Tracer using bubbles (foreground) to feed deep.


Tracer fluking out.


Our first whale sighting was a male humpback named Tracer. Tracer was feeding deep on his own using bubbles to help him concentrate the bait fish. We were unable to identify the type of fish that Tracer was targeting, but we assume it was a common type of baitfish in our area like American sand lance or herring.


Sundown and Northstar logging at the surface.

In the distance, we saw two humpbacks breaching out of the water. Even though the animals were miles away, the huge splashes they made were easy to see at that distance. As we moved up on this pair, they started to rest at the surface, a behavior called logging. On calm days, humpbacks often log to take advantage of the calm seas. We were able to identify both humpbacks as Northstar and Sundown. Northstar is a whale that was hit by a boat last season. The scars on this animal’s back are a testament to this encounter. Vessel collisions is one of the biggest hazards for humpbacks in our area, along with entanglements in fishing gear.


Northstar fluking out.


Northstar fluking out.


Wounds on the right flank of Northstar.


Sundown fluking out.

As we watched this pair continue to log at the surface, two minkes moved into the area and appeared to be feeding close to the surface. Both animals were swimming very fast, charging all around the boat. We don’t often see this type of behavior from minke whales, so this was a treat for all onboard.


Minke whale.

Our last sighting was a trio of humpbacks that were also feeding deep in the area. We were able to identify two of the three whales who were Pele and Eruption. As the whales surfaced all around our vessel, we were able to get great looks at their dorsal fins and ventral tail patterns that are used to distinguish individual humpback whales. The ventral tail pattern functions like a “fingerprint” of sorts is relatively permanent after the first few years of a whale’s life and can be used to track an individual from one season to the next.


Eruption and the unknown surfacing off our bow.


Pele surfacing off the bow.


Ventral tail pattern of Eruption.


Fluke out dive by Pele.


Ventral tail pattern of Pele.


The unknown whale and Pele surfacing off the bow.

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