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!

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