9/29/14: Best whale watch of the season!

Although its pretty late in the season, according to one of our Blue Ocean Naturalists, Hannah, September 29 could have been one of the best! Read her Blog from that day here:

Another amazing day on the ocean! We had light winds and fairly calm seas as we headed straight east towards and area between Jeffrey’s Ledge and Stellwagon Bank known as Tillies Bank. The bank provides the perfect underwater topography for upwelling, which carries nutrients to the surface. It is most common to see whales and other marine life in these upwelling zones due to the large amount of fish that frequent the area.

As we headed east towards an area where whales were spotted over the weekend, we came across an ocean sunfish. Ocean sunfish, or Mola mola, are the largest and heaviest bony fish in the ocean. The average weight of these fish is around 2,200 lbs but the one we spotted today was not a full grown individual. Ocean sunfish eat jellyfish and so are often sighted after a jelly fish bloom occurs. There were reports of large numbers of jellyfish this summer so we have had a great season for spotting these large, uniquely shaped fish.

We then continued east and came upon our first pair of humpback whales. Humpbacks are a medium sized whale ranging from 40-45 feet and weighing in at 45 tons as an adult. The pair was swimming slowly and were diving for an average of 4-5 minutes. We got a special treat as one of the humpbacks was doing a behavior known as flipper slapping. The animal will raise one or both of the pectoral fins (flippers), each about 15 feet long and 1 ton in weight, out of the water and then slap it on the surface. It is not known what causes this behavior or why it is performed but in the case of these two whales, it was possibly communication. As we were watching the first pair of humpbacks, we noted that there was massive amounts of white water a few miles in the distance and decided to check it out.

As we were traveling toward the splashing, we saw that it was another pair of humpbacks (different from the first) and that one of the whales was breaching (jumping out of the water!) When we arrived near the whales, we were able to ID them as Tornado and her calf. The mother and calf will stay together for no more than a year so we know that this particular calf was born early this year and it probably around 9-10 months old. Again, we were lucky enough to observe the calf breaching out of the water multiple times and in a fairly predictable fashion. Similar to flipper slapping, the true meaning behind breaching is not well understood. Tornado was cruising at the surface and then taking short dives while her calf was rolling, flipper slapping and breaching near the boat. It was quite the treat!! We were able to see around 10 breaches. It was an extraordinary encounter with such amazing animals! Now that fall has arrived, some of the humpback whales will begin their migration to the warm waters of the Caribbean where they will spend the winter. We send them luck as they prepare for their trek south and are looking forward to what the remainder of the season has to offer!

Tornado 2014-09-29_00232

Tornado showing off with a tail breach

Tornado and calf 2014-09-29_00243

Tornado & her calf (breaching in the background)

Tornado's calf 2014-09-29_00351

Tornado’s breaching calf

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Flipper slapping

Mola 2014-09-29_00002

Mola mola at the surface (ocean sunfish)

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