July 25, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Krill Carson

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Cory’s shearwater.

As we headed to the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank, we moved into an area with a high concentration of gulls and seabirds. Many were Cory’s shearwaters, but we also had great shearwaters, sooty shearwaters, and a few manx shearwaters. We also had a pair of jaegers who flew just off our starboard bow for a few minutes. It was amazing to see hundreds of gulls and seabirds feeding in this area.

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Jaeger

Suddenly a finback whale surfaced off our port bow, just under a group of gulls. Then a second finback surfaced off our starboard beam. Before we knew it, we had at least 4 to 5 finbacks in this area and all appeared to be feeding deep.

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Finback whale.

We headed a bit more to the southeast and picked up a small cluster of humpback whales. We had Abrasion and calf, Orbit and calf, and Etch-a-Sketch. All the adults were feeding deep, except Etch-a-Sketch who was actively feeding at the surface. Etch typically kick feeds and when she does, it can be quite exciting. After kicking 3 times, she typically dives under the school of fish and blows a series of bubble columns to help concentrate the small bait fish. Then she rises from the deep with mouth wide open as she lunges through the water and fish.

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Etch-a-Sketch kick feeding.

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Kick feeding.

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Lunge feeding by Etch-a-Sketch.

As Etch scoops up hundreds of gallons of water and fish, she closes her mouth and begins to strain or push the water back out. The water can get past the hairs of the baleen plates inside her mouth, but the fish are too large and become trapped inside. Once all the water is out, she swallows the fish whole. Whales don’t drink salt water, they get all their fresh water demands from the tissues of the fish they feed on.

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Straining.

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Straining.

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Straining.

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Straining.

It was incredible to see just how flexible Etch was as she arched her back bringing her tail clear out of the water as she kept her head up. And the birds were going crazy trying to snatch the fish right out of Etch’s mouth. Their antics were so funny we had to laugh as we watched them plop right on top of her head.

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Straining.

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Herring gull catching a ride.

We also had good looks at one minke whale also feeding in this area. Great day offshore and more to come!

 

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Minke whale.

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