July 24

MCA 7/24 Blog Post

Today was a beautiful day on the ocean! We decided to start the day by heading south west to the bottom corner of Stellwagen Bank. This bank is a National Marine Sanctuary and is also a location of upwelling where large amounts of nutrient rich waters are pushed upwards and interact with the sun. This interaction causes phytoplankton blooms and attracts all kinds of marine life including whales.

Just north of Provincetown, we spotted a group of 4 humpback whales and a separate group of 2 humpback whales to the west. We cruised over to the smaller group and were able to ID one of them as Pregunta. Pregunta means question in Spanish and this whale has a small “question” mark on the top right side of her tail, which is how she got her name! She also has extensive scarring on tail stock which is another way to ID her. Pregunta is a female humpback whale and was born in 1990. She has also had 3 calves in her lifetime. We were also able to see the whale that she was with do a spinning head breach in which they throw their whole bodies out of the water! Pregunta then performed two head breaches. After watching this pair we decided to check out some of the other whales in the area.

The group of 4 whales that we had spotted on the way down had split into two groups of two and we had the chance to see one of these smaller groups. This group contained a whale named Bayou and she is another female who was born in 2006. Bayou is missing a large portion of the right side of her tail and was probably lost during an encounter with a boat. Bayou and friend were giving us great looks as they stayed at the surface for quite a while. After some more time with these humpbacks, we made our turn back towards Gloucester. In all, we spotted 6 different humpbacks and has some excellent looks at 4 of them.

The afternoon trip brought us to a similar area but the whales had moved north- which means more time on the whales for us and less time traveling! The trip started off by seeing a very small blue shark that was swimming just below the surface.

We then spotted Bayou again and were able to ID the whale she was with as Sundown. Sundown is also a female and was born in 2007. Based on dorsal shape, this was probably the same whale she was with this morning but they were acting very different! They were pectoral slapping, tail lobbing and tail breaching in the beginning of the trip. The pectoral fins are 15 feet long and weight up to 1 ton each. During the pectoral slapping behavior they will roll, lift the pectoral fin out of the water and then slam it on the surface. The same behavior is performed during a tail lob but the tail fin is used instead of the pectoral fins. They continued this behavior for a while then started traveling. We slowly followed behind and were very surprised to have two spinning head breaches very close to our boat! They then resumed pectoral slapping and tail lobbing. We ended the trip with some great looks as them swam near us and as they lifted their tail out of the water to continued on a deep dive we headed back to Gloucester. This trip was a great example of how quickly behaviors can change and how spectacular these animals are!

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