Sunday, August 23, 2015 Whale Watch - Naturalist Sammy Beynor

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Great shearwater.

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Juvenile Northern gannet.

On today’s trip offshore we headed to an area slightly North West of the South West corner of Stellwagen Bank. The bank and surrounding areas make up one of fourteen marine protected areas in the United States. This sanctuary is roughly 842 square miles and ranges between 6 miles wide and 19 miles long. The protection on this area requires that the bottom of the ocean not be disturbed. The bank creates upwelling, a process where cold oxygen rich water is forced to the surface. This, in combination with a healthy sandy bottom, allows for a large amount of life. The whales that we come to see every day spend some time here in Stellwagen Bank in order to access an incredible amount of food.

On our way to this area we encountered a large amount of seabirds. Seabirds often feed on the same small schooling fish as the whales do and sometimes lead us to where whales are. We began with numerous sightings of Shearwaters. The first type we saw was a Great Shearwater. These birds have a chocolatey brown back with a white ring around its neck and a black beak. We also saw occasional Cory’s Shearwaters, which lack the white ring and possess a yellow beak. We also got a few looks at Norther Gannets, particularly a few juvenile Northern Gannets. These beautiful birds are brown when young and later become almost entirely white, with a bit of yellow on their necks and black on their wing tips.

Shortly after we found a group of five humpback whales. Humpback whales are a medium sized whale roughly the size of a school bus. In the group we encountered today, we had three adults and two calves. This group has been seen together recently and was easy to identify.

Cajun.

The single whale in the group is named Pele. This adult gets its name after the soccer ball pattern on its fluke. One of the mothers is named Jabiru and the other is Cajun. Cajun has an almost all white tail, while Jabiru has an intermediate white and black tail. The two calves will not get names for a few years due to the fact that their fluke patterns are still developing.

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Cajun’s very white ventral tail pattern.

Cajun’s calf has a chunkier dorsal fin, similar to its mother. Jabiru’s calf has a similar dorsal fin to its mother as well. We got great looks at not only the adults but also the calves. The calves tended to spend more time at the surface and were very active, especially Cajun’s calf. We observed Cajun’s calf breaching, tail breaching, rolling and flipper slapping.

Calf rolling over and starting to flipper slap.

At one point the calves ventured further away from their mothers coming closer to investigate our vessel. Shortly after a flutter blow vocalization from one of the adults the calves returned to their mother’s sides. These calves will stay with their mothers until the fall where they will make the migrations down to the Caribbean separately.

Spinning head breach by a humpback whale.

Today’s trip gave us great looks at both many seabirds and whales. We got to see some incredible breaches, something that we see on less than 10% of our trips. Today was truly an amazing trip.

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Jabiru’s dorsal fin.

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Jabiru’s ventral tail pattern.

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Dorsal fluke of Pele.

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Pele’s dorsal fin.

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Pele’s ventral tail pattern. Notice small black dot on left side.

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