Naturalists Notes 7-30-18
July 30, 2018
We boarded the Cetacea for the 9 a.m. whale watch and headed out to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary on glass seas. Seeking a change of scenery, we made our way north and began spotting for marine mammals on Jeffery’s Ledge. We first spotted a minke whale, and before long a pair of fin whales emerged in front of us. One of this fin whales was identified as Ladder, a favorite and familiar whale here in the Gulf of Maine. The pair was lazily traveling at the surface, allowing passengers some amazing looks at the second largest animal species. We then moved on to a single humpback, Hornbill, who was taking short dives and spending ample time at the surface. Hornbill was also the target of Ocean Alliance’s research vessel; researchers on board had deployed their “Snotbot” in an effort to collect samples of whale breath! There is so much exciting research going on in Stellwagen this summer, and it’s equally exciting to witness it! Hopefully, we will be able to gain new insights into the lives of these whales in an effort to better understand them. All in all, today was a wonderful day to be on the water, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week has in store.
Flukes up! Ashlyn and Emma
Hello all, Today aboard the Sanctuary, we traveled north to the area around Thatcher Island. With calm seas, the tiny bodies of Atlantic white sided dolphins were clear as day as they surfaced quickly. This pod of about 25-30 individuals delighted passengers. A tall column like blow interrupted the dolphin sighting as three fin whales surfaced next to the dolphins. We watched these three individuals as they stayed at the surface, until we spotted another pair of blows in the distance. We went to see this pair of fin whales, who after watching them, disappeared into the blue. But our trip was not over, all five fin whales joined into a massive group! In the largest association of fin whales I’ve personally witnessed, we stayed with the group for the rest of our time out on the water. These whales made for an excellent day and displayed the variety of life out on Stellwagen Bank!
Greetings Whale Town, The M/V Asteria cradled her voyagers in her aluminum womb for an 11am excursion on southwestern Stellwagen Bank. 33 nautical miles of travel yielded a fleeting encounter with Bounce the Humpback whale, but her 12 minute surface hiatus left minds to wander. Soon did two whales take flight on the southern horizon, and on encroachment we knew these twin breachers to be Deuce and Crystal.
The latter of these benthic jewels continued to shimmer over the sea, and we admired the harlequin monochrome of this rorqual raptor’s blubber plumage with each thunderous bound. This pelagic pilot soon inverted at the ocean’s peak in an engagement of flipper slapping, hammering mercury seas into a tantrum of whitewater.
After alternating bouts of flight and pectoral clapping, Crystal was joined by Deuce who ascended from a dive exceeding 15 minutes. The water began broiling with the darkened panic of baitfish, and these behemoths responded with the gaseous witchcraft of bubblenets. An impeding fleet of tuna fishermen did herald our inevitable departure, and we wished them good fortune in drawing up their own briny bounty.
Periscope Down, Rich W D
This afternoon’s whale watch aboard the Aurora brought us down to the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. There, we found ourselves amongst several scattered humpback and minke whales! We spent most of our trip watching a single humpback, Etch-A-Sketch. Initially Etch-A-Sketch wowed us with a round of kick feeding before doing some traveling around the area. While she was down on dives, we were treated to great looks of about six minke whales, two gray seals, and several storm petrels. Overall it was a fun day out on the water with sightings of many interesting species!
For our 2:30 whale watch, the Cetacea ventured midbank then south to see what we could find. A bit of splashing caught our attention and we made our way over. We stopped a fair distance away and noticed gear trailing behind an all-black fluke coming out of the water repeatedly. We realized we were watching an entangled humpback, Cardhu, who was trailing gear. The Center for Coastal Studies Disentanglement team aboard the Ibis was thankfully present on the scene, and we watched for a moment as the Ibis followed behind a quickly moving Cardhu. It was a heavy sight to see such a familiar whale entangled. We gave the disentanglement team space and ventured off to see who else we could find.
We made our way to three blows of a whales milling around the area. Two of these whales were Freckles and Perseid, the latter recognizable by the propeller marks on the edge of her fluke. These whales were taking fluking dives, occasionally blowing bubble clouds. While we enjoyed watching this pair, we witnessed a boat speed through the area, directly in front of Freckles as she got ready to descend for a dive. The boat cut off her direction of travel, and we saw as she turned rapidly to her side.
Our afternoon trip observing both entanglement and unsafe boating practices around whales was a sobering experience to have, but there were silver linings as well. Cardhu was actively being assisted by the Ibis team, Freckles seemed to not sustain any injury by her close call, and Perseid seems to be thriving well despite her trailing edge. And more, the greatest part of our whale watch was the passengers who took true interest in getting updates about Cardhu, and discussing conservation issues and actions to take to help. Our glimpse at Cardhu, Freckles and Perseid hopefully inspired passengers to care about the lives of these whales and the ocean environment.