Memorial Day Weekend

We had three more great trips to help us celebrate Memorial Day! Each day we were able to see about 15 or more whales- humpbacks, minkes, and fin whales! We had some great, close looks at two different mom and calf pairs on Saturday and Monday. Glostick’s calf surfaced so close to the boat that even with my camera zoomed out I could only get a small portion of the whale! What is neat about this photo is you can see the whale’s eye, as well as a number of barnacles that have already attached themselves. Humpbacks have been found to have up to 2,000 lbs of barnacles on their bodies!

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A very close up look at a young humpback calf!

In addition to close encounters, there was also a number of surface behaviors. On Sunday we witnessed a couple of tail breaches. And a highlight- many of the passengers were watching a whale off the right side of the boat at one whale when another breached clear out of the water in the distance! We were treated to one more full breach before making our way over as the whale (Rocker) did a series of lob tails.

Also on Sunday, we got to meet Nile’s new calf! If you came on a whale watch last season, you likely remember Nile- who was by far the most sighted humpback of 2013. We had suspicions that she was pregnant, and when we had heard she returned to the Gulf of Maine with a calf, we couldn’t wait to see her.

The distinctive mark on the left side of Nile's fluke, with her calf alongside.

The distinctive mark on the left side of Nile’s fluke, with her calf alongside.

We were treated to a quick view of the calf's fluke alongside Mom!

We were treated to a quick view of the calf’s fluke alongside Mom!

By now, you might have heard of the large amount of feeding that has been happening on Stellwagen Bank in the last few weeks. We had some great viewing of both closed and open mouth feeding- such an exciting thing to watch.

Three humpbacks lunge upward to feed on sand eels

Three humpbacks lunge upward to feed on sand eels

We have really been enjoying our trips the last few weeks. A handful of the individuals we have spent time with include Geometry, Aswan, Milkweed and calf, Cajun, Jabiru, Measles, Yoo Hoo, and Glostick and calf. Let’s hope the whales stick around all season!

Four humpbacks are spotted on our fish finder

Four humpbacks are spotted on our fish finder

 

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May 21, 2014: Beautiful Day

What an amazing day today! It was flat calm and sunny and warm!

We started our trip with great looks at a basking shark. Basking sharks can be up to 25 feet long, and they have large gills that go from the top of their head to the bottom of their head. Basking sharks are filter feeders, so they use their gill rakes to filter plankton out of the water. I saw something today that I hadn’t seen in 20 years. While the shark was feeding, you could see the gill filaments between the gills–they were bright red. Gill filaments are the soft, red, fleshy part of the gills.. As sharks swim, water passes through the gills and oxygen is taken into the blood by these filaments.

This picture is enhanced a little so that you can see the red filaments!

This picture is enhanced a little so that you can see the red filaments!

 

This is also enhanced, but you can see the inside of the mouth so much clearer :)

This is also enhanced, but you can see the inside of the mouth so much clearer ๐Ÿ™‚

 

As we headed a little further out, it was so calm that we saw a few harbor seals, grey seals and sharks in the distance. When we reached the whales, we spent the beginning of the trip with Rocker. He has such a unique feeding style. He would blow a large ring of small bubbles in a half circle, then come up through the middle with a chin breach and lobtail (part of kick feeding), then a few more bubbles would come up and finally Rocker. It was so unique, and we saw him feed that way at least 10 times. His feeding style was a combination of Bandit (who was around in the late 90’s a lot) and Rune (who often does a chin breach when she feeds.)

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Rocker was first sighted in 1990.

 

While with Rocker, another whale came over that fed using bubble nets! We saw at least 4 complete bubble nets during our time watching this whale. At one point, a very small calf popped up next to us (not near the mom) which was a big surprise. We saw very little of the calf, but watched the mom feed many times. We finally figured out the mom was Osprey, and we think this is her first calf.

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Bubble Net from Osprey

 

Osprey was first seen in 2007.

Osprey was first seen in 2007.

 

We saw many sand eels flittering at the surface throughout the day. In our plankton tow we got loads of copepods, so there is lots of good stuff out there for the whales to feed on!! Hope it continues ๐Ÿ™‚

The sand eels were jumping out of the water as the laughing gull flew over!

The sand eels were jumping out of the water as the laughing gull flew over!

May 18, 2014

Whale watching is always fun- some days it leaves us just in awe.

Our trip began with a quick look at a fin whale. These animals are so large, and so fast, that even seeing it from a distance gave us an appreciation for how awesome they are. It was traveling quickly, and we could see other whales in the area, so we continued on. Soon we spotted some splashing, and could see the pectoral fin of a humpback whale standing straight out of the water. This whale (Springboard) continued slapping its fin on the water for about 20 minutes, sometimes rolling on its side and sometimes rolling upside down.

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Springboard’s right pectoral fin and a look at a part of the fluke

We noticed a few other whales in the area, including a pair that looked like one large and one small whale- we decided to check them out, and wow!! We had a quick look at this mom and calf pair before they dove deep. We were wondering where they would resurface when suddenly both whales appeared right next to the boat!

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The calf (about 3-5 months old) lifts its head out of the water with mom close by.

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Mom and calf checking out the Hurricane II!

They then turned to look toward us and very quickly I realized this was going to be a special trip. It’s always amazing when the whales are that close to us, but the pair stayed engaged with our boat for almost a half hour. I have heard a number of instances of a calf seeming more interested in a boat while mom is nearby or is doing some feeding, however this trip was the opposite- Mom stayed engaged with us while the calf cruised around close by.

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It’s a tough problem to have, with the whales so close that they don’t fit in the camera frame!

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Just a few feet away from a 30 ton animal!

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You can see the white on the mother’s belly, and the white pectoral fins on either side of her.

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We were lucky enough to have a couple of spy hops- a behavior known to be the whales intentionally taking a look at a boat!

The only (tiny!) negative part was that we never saw a clear look at the underside, or ventral side, of the mother’s fluke, so identifying her has been a little bit difficult. We are working on it though, so check back to see if we are able to confirm our guesses!

May 11, 2014

Another great day of feeding on Stellwagen Bank! We traveled south this afternoon and were able to start our trip watching three different fin whales. It really is impressive to think about how large they are- about 70 feet long. The third fin whale allowed us to get some great, close looks!

We continued south where we were lucky enough to watch three humpbacks bubble feeding. Even from a long distance, it was easy to see where the whales had made bubble clouds by watching the large cluster of birds at the surface. The birds are there since they cannot dive into the water after fish for themselves, so they wait for the whales to swim underneath schools of fish and hopefully push that bait toward the surface. We noticed, however, that it appeared the fish was a little bit deeper in the water column, between about 3–50 feet deep, so it looked like those birds were out of luck for a little while.

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A humpback whale surfaces among some hopeful gulls after blowing a bubble cloud and feeding on schooling fish.

 

We could tell that there were a couple of whales in the area, and after observing for a bit, we identified two of them as Springboard and Amulet. We had a few good looks at them, however the whale we were able to watch the most closely is a whale named Pleats. Pleats was born in 2008 (to a whale named Ventisca) and is named for the propeller scars on the back. These scars have healed and the whale appears to be healthy, but it is a good example of the impact humans can have on other animals.

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Humpback whale Pleats is trailed by hungry birds.

A beautiful day and exciting whales made for a great day!

May 4, 2014

Wow,

 

What an amazing day!!! It was one of the best ones I’ve had in probably two years! We went south down to Stellwagen Bank and encountered so many whales! We started with two fin whales then continued further south. Hancock and another whale were moving around–we figured out looking for fish. After a few surfacings, they both came up with their mouths wide open andย  full of food! We watched for a few more feeding sessions, and then moved a little further north to watch six more whales.

 

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Hancock was born in 1991 to Clipper.

 

The first pair of whales that we saw were Glostick and her new calf. She has such a great feeding style! She kicks her tail 4 times, progressively higher every time! Then she would come up with her mouth full. Her calf was just busy swimming around, not paying attention to the feeding mom! Pretty soon, we started to see fish at the surface all over the place. We still aren’t sure what they were. Even looking at pictures, some definitely look like mackerel and some look like sand eels. Maybe both were there. What we do know is that the whales were feeding over and over on something. At one point all four females came to the surface with their mouths open! It was amazing!!! Check out this picture from Nancy Heins!

Nancy--feeding all four

Four humpbacks feeding on mackerel or sand eels!!!! Maybe both! Photo by Nancy Heins

The groupings were switching up and changing the entire time it seemed like. We saw Pepper, Bayou, Milkweed and calf and Glostick and calf.

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Check out the white scars on the top of the tail stock as well as where the tail meets the tail stock. These scars are from an entanglement.

Of these six whales that we spent most of our time with, 3 have been impacted by humans. Bayou was hit by a boat years ago and is missing half her tail. Pepper was entangled in fishing gear years ago, and Glostick has scars on her tail stock that are from a previous entanglement. We always suggest using seafood guides and buying local!

We hope to get out on the water later this week! We will keep you posted!