Aug 7

From Naturalist Hannah

Today was another beautiful day on the ocean! We had two different trips today and were able to see a wide variety of behaviors and animals as we visited their marine habitat. The morning trip started out with a calm and sunny ride down the Southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. This area is a National Marine Sanctuary and is a summer feeding ground for a number of animal including our large whales and other cetaceans. Once the Provincetown Monument was in view we spotted a few different blows and the numbers continued to grow as we got closer. The trip started off with an interesting trio (group of 3) of humpback whales. There was a mother, calf and escort. An escort is a whale, regardless of sex, that accompanies a mother-calf pair. The mother, named Pepper, is also a welcome guest to Stellwagen this year. Pepper was the second whale to have ever been named by scientists back in 1976 (The first whale named was Salt). She was a full grown humpback whale when she was first sighted and has had 9 calves since that time. The escort, Bounce, was born in 2007 so is a relatively young whale and we have not been able to sex that animal yet. The animals were synchronizing their dive and surfacing intervals and they also gave us some incredible looks as the calf approached our boat while we were stopped. After a few great looks that this pair, we decided to take a look at some of the other whales in the area. The next group was a pair of adult humpbacks named Pele and Canopy. Pele was born in 1997 and is named after a famous Brazilian soccer player because a marking on the fluke looks like a soccer ball! Canopy is a female that was born in 1998 and has had 2 calves. Both of these whales have been spending some time on Stellwagen for the last few days so it was great to see them again. We ended the trip with a very unusual group of 4 humpback whales. Associations that large are not often seen so it was incredible to have that many animals scooting around our boat. At one point while we were waiting for them to resurface, the popped up just next to our 9 o’clock position a few hundred feet from the boat, curled around the pulpit and dove next to the right side of the boat. It is such a great experience to see the whale so close and to truly appreciate their size. The large group members included Bayou, a female born in 2006 with a significant disfigurement on her fluke from a run in with a boat. BayouWe also had Cajun, who was born in 1998 and had her 3rd calf cruising alongside her. Finally, we had Perseid who is also a female born in 1998. There were also a few other individual whales in the area. In all, we had a great morning trip and some excellent looks at humpback whales.

The afternoon trip left with some bumpier conditions but were able to spot whales much closer to home. The whales were spotted near the north east corner of Stellwagen Bank and Tillies Bank. It was also interesting to note that there were many tuna fishing boats in the area so the whales were feeding on the same bait fish as the tuna! We started off with a single whale that was exhibiting an interesting behavior known as bubble cloud feeding. The cloud is blown out of the blow hole and is thought to startle the bait fish so they school closer together. The whale then swims up through the cloud and uses its baleen to filter out the water and swallow the fish whole. As the whale surfaced, the cloud of bubbles rose slowly and began to dissipate. This behavior was repeated many times by the three different humpbacks in the area. Of the three humpbacks, we were able to ID two of them. Doric is a female that was born in 2001 and Mogul is a male born in 1986. MogulThe whales were not associated but they were definitely aware of each others presence. As we came to the end of the trip, we traveled out towards Tillie’s Bank and ended the trip with some incredible looks at a Minke whale. These are the smallest species of baleen whale that we encounter and are usually difficult to get good looks at. This particular whale was swimming near the bow and you could see the white patches on the pectoral fins that are endearingly known as the Minke’s mittens. The seas calmed down as we neared Gloucester harbor and ended the day with a beautiful ride home.humpbacks

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