Aug 3

From Naturalist Hannah

Today was one for the books! We had two great trips down to the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank along with some very welcome sights of a special whale. The seas were fairly calm and the sun shining as we headed out of Gloucester and down to an area just north of Provincetown. The morning trip started off with a humpback whale named Salt and she is one of the most well-known animals to scientists. First spotted in 1976, Salt has helped us understand what life is like out in the Gulf of Maine during the summer and the West Indies in the winter. Salt was the first whale to ever receive a formal name for identification purposes and has also given birth to 11 calves and is now a grandmother to two different young humpbacks. She is easily identified by her dorsal fin which looks like it is encrusted with salt, and the main feature behind her name. We had some great looks at Salt then continued on with our trip. After a few minutes traveling, we came across a group of humpbacks and a few mother calf pairs. One of the calves gave us quite the show and was performing a plethora of different behaviors including spinning head breaching, back breaching, lunging, chin slapping, pectoral slapping and lob tailing. We are not quite sure why these whale do each behavior but it is a general observation that younger whale need to practice each behavior and master it as a juvenile. This calf was doing quite well and we enjoyed seeing it launch and roll through the air. There was also another mother-calf pair in the area and they were identified as Cajun and calf. In all, there were roughly 20 whales in the area and we were able to identify a few more as Jabiru, Degree, Hancock and Perseid. We ended the trip with some great looks as the whales passed just next to our bow! In all, this was a wonderful trip and as the wind picked up we headed north back towards home.

The afternoon trip was also an incredible one. The ride was a little rough but the whales did not disappoint! We headed back to the same area as this morning on Stellwagen Bank and as we got closer, started to see extraordinary amounts of white water rising from the surface. It was soon clear that there was a breaching whale ahead. As we made our way closer, the animal breached 12 times and as we came to a stop, continued breaching over 40 more times. To see a single breach is a rare event, but to have a humpback breaching in such a predictable pattern and for so long was a once and a lifetime experience. As we turned towards another group, we spotted Salt again and had a few looks at this huge female humpback. As the seas rocked and churned we found ourselves surrounded by a group of 7 whales. There was an associated group of 2 mothers and their calves as well as a few smaller groups and a single animal all very close together. They were not traveling in any particular direction but we were able to see more breaching, pectoral slapping and charging behaviors. We ended this incredible trip with an interesting interaction between a group of 4 (two mothers and two calves) and a single male whale. Of the animals in this area we were able to identify Snare, Jabiru (and calf), Cajun (and calf), Salt, Tear, Perseid and Canopy. There were roughly 15 animals in this area and they were doing some incredible behaviors!

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