We love whale watching!! It’s like a holiday when the season starts! We all come out of our hibernation and become a crew again. It’s such a great time of year. As I was driving to Gloucester today, I was bummed by the rain drops on my windshield. I had looked at the weather and it looked like we would be in the clear for the trip, but the rain hadn’t stopped yet. Luckily, by the time we boarded all the passengers, the rain had stopped. The sun even made an appearance by the end of the trip!
Despite the overcast conditions, if you went whale watching on Saturday, consider yourself spoiled! We saw everything! First mother calf pairs of the year, close to boat, breaching, feeding, dolphins, lunge feeding fin whales (in the distance). It was truly awesome. One of my favorite parts was the fact that by the time we were ending our time with whales, the wind had dropped off so much that you could hear blows over half a mile away. I would hear a blow, and when I looked up, I was surprised how far away the whale was. And literally every direction that you looked, there were blows. Lots of whales out there.
Some of the humpbacks we saw were Tornado and calf, Echo and calf, Komodo, Lavalier, and others that we haven’t ID’d yet. There were at least 10 humpbacks. 4 fin whales, over 100 dolphins spread out over a large space. We saw a couple of gannets also.
We had Echo’s calf breaching and really flying out of the water!
I love the second one where it’s literally entering the water head first. This little whale also fluked up a couple times so we could see the neat marks on the underside of it’s tail.
I can’t wait to get out there again. Hope they stay in the same place–Northwest corner. Here’s to a year ending in “6”. ’96 and ’06, whales were amazing on the northwest corner 🙂
Photos taken by Leslie Rapp, 2016
Where do our whales go in the winter? They head south to the Caribbean. Many of the whales in the N. Atlantic are sighted around the Dominican Republic. Why do they go? It’s thought that the females want to give birth in the warmer, calmer and more protected waters. Males go because that’s where the females are. They are there for mating and calving and as a result, different behaviors are observed than we see in the feeding grounds.
Rowdy groups are seen (sometimes called competitive groups). Males will chase a female, competing with each other using their bodies and bubbles sometimes. Males will sing their famous songs throughout the winter. Despite years of studying whale song, scientist still are not positive about it’s purpose. It was once thought that it could be a way to attract females, although there is little evidence of that. It seems to be a way of communicating between males. Click here for a great description from Jim Darling of what we know to this point.
Humpbacks that feed off Alaska go to Hawaii for the winter (where Jim was just telling you about). Like I said earlier, our humpbacks head to the Caribbean. There are a few whale watch companies there that post images of whales that they see for help in IDing who is there. I love looking at the images, because some tails look familiar and some I know I have never seen before in person or in our catalog. A few of the Gulf of Maine humpbacks have been sighted this winter:
Victim and calf
Spoon’s calf from 2015
Other whales have been matched to Newfoundland or even the northern part of the Gulf of Maine. It’s great how technology and virtual communities help us learn more and more about these animals!!! Less than two months left until they return to the coast of Massachusetts. We can’t wait!!
What an amazing start to the season!!!
I think it’s been years since I have seen so many whales on the first trip. It seems like it’s either one or two whales or loads of whales–this year it was loads. There were at least 15-20 humpbacks, at least 2 fin whales, and dolphins everywhere. We estimated that there were probably 100-200 dolphins spread out over a large area. Most of the whales were really spread out, but there was a group of 5 that were together for the entire time. Interestingly enough, most of these whales were born or first sighted in the late 90’s. I remember many of them being named at the naming party in 1999 because they were born or first sighted in 1998. Canopy, Falcon, Persied were a few. At one point during the trip, we had 8 surface together. I think they were doing some deep feeding (probably feeding on sand eels on the bottom) because they were staying down a little longer than usual. We saw bait on the fish finder near the bottom as well. What a treat to get to spend the afternoon with these animals.
Click here to see a video from the group of 8 surfacing together! I’m experimenting with a new Virb camera. More to come on this one….
We look forward to tomorrow’s trip!!!! Have heard there are still lots of whales around!!!
Feeding Humpbacks!!!! That sums up World Oceans Day! The humpbacks were celebrating sand eels today!
At one point today, we were surrounded by 20 feeding whales! There was a group of 3 adults (Glostick, Jabiru, and Pleats) that were feeding together. Glostick was kick feeding and she did 5 kicks, getting bigger and bigger, blew bubbles and then all three whales would surface. After seeing that many times, they started lunge feeding. We would see the sand eels jump out of the water, followed quickly by a few bubbles and then three lunge feeding humpbacks!! Glostick is one of this year’s mom and her calf was just hanging out at the surface. He or she breached a few times and also did a few tail breaches. So exciting!!
Another large group of whales was moving around feeding together. At some points, I think there were 7 whales in the group! Cajun, Geometry, Orbit, Pepper to name a few. It’s always amazing to see that many animals feeding together. It’s so interesting that Cajun was in this group because a few years ago, there was a large group of humpbacks staying together, and again Cajun was part of the group–two years in a row.
We also saw Dome kick feeding. Echo and her calf were also out there feeding as well. It was truly an amazing day! Flat calm, and lots of whales! Can’t wait until tomorrow!!!
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 is also enhanced, but you can see the inside of the mouth so much clearer 🙂
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.)
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.
Bubble Net from Osprey
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 🙂
The sand eels were jumping out of the water as the laughing gull flew over!
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 and full of food! We watched for a few more feeding sessions, and then moved a little further north to watch six more whales.
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!
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.
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!
What a great day! The morning was a bit choppy, but we were able to pick up 3 different fin whales about 6 miles from Gloucester. We got some of the best looks I’ve had all year. The whales were literally right beside the boat a couple different times. Thanks to my friend Beth Brau for these great pictures!!!!
This afternoon, the wind dropped off and there were very few white caps. The first thing we saw was a Mola mola, or ocean sunfish. the most exciting part is that it breached!!! It literally dove and then jumped out of the water, not once, but twice. So exciting!!! I’m hoping to post a video soon, but for the meantime, here is a picture of it.
We kept going a little bit and found one of the fin whales from the morning. It stayed at the surface for about 12 breaths each time it came up. Every time it surfaced, it would raise its tail stock out of the water like it was going to dive. Then when it did go down for a dive, the surfacing looked like a regular fin whale surfacing. What a great day to be on the water!!!!
Today Rocket Rodger was on the boat. He recorded the audio today on the trip and is going to broadcast it on his radio show in PA sometime soon. I’ll keep you posted on that. Check out his website at http://www.rocketrodger.com
Until next week…