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Naturalists Notes
Naturalists Notes 11-18-18

November 18, 2018

12:00 PM

To say that our last whale watch of 2018 season ended on a high note yesterday is an understatement. We headed out to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in high hopes of seeing many whales after finding a hotspot last Thursday, and luckily had one last nice day of weather, despite it being a chilly day of 36 degrees out on the water.

As we approached the SW corner, we spotted a few solitary blows and splashes of blue fin tuna but decided to keep trekking a little further out in hopes of larger aggregation. We quickly saw more and more blows pop up around us, and then we were surrounded! Throughout our trip, our fall intern Sarah documented 38 to 54 humpbacks (our best guess is that we had at least 40-50!), and it was an exhilarating afternoon of watching numerous groups of 3-5 individuals each hastily working together to feed beneath the surface. With the 1000+ great shearwaters surrounding the whales, we guessed that the bait fish they were feeding on were a few meters below the surface (and most likely sandlance). We witnessed the many groups quickly dive and turn in many directions, working fast to corral fish and often charging at the surface while trumpeting loudly. On a few of the surfacings, we saw 2-3 groups seem to narrow in on the same prey that it often felt like a scene from west side story, with us wondering what would happen once the groups collided. Luckily we never witnessed any whales bumping into each other at the surface, but we could only imagine the crazy coordinated ballet-of-a-circus happening under the water each time they dove. We also spotted a few grey seal visitors hanging out.

If you’re curious who we saw (just to name a few), here’s a list of the humpback IDs, a certainly impossible task to get all of them: Dome, Bolide, Tectonic, Jabiru, Canopy, Venom, Venom 18 calf, Pele, 3.14, Crinkle, Sprinkles, Crystal, Milkweed, Twine, Arcus, A-Plus, Spell, Coral, Springboard 15 calf, Snare, Campground, Seal, Reaper (and probably her calf), Rocker, Thumper, and Entropy.

And while we never got a visual of the exact prey that they were eating, the numerous brown defecations (our captain helped us count at least 5 bouts) let us know that is was some kind of fish at least. As naturalists, we are passionate about whales but the drive to conserve them is not only because they are charismatic – they are also ecosystem engineers that can combat climate change as well, hence one of the many reasons we love to talk about whale poop! (And with the amount of defecation we saw yesterday, there was definitely some nutrient cycling happening!) Here’s a great talk called “Why you should care about whale poo” if you’d like to check it out:

We wrapped up the trip with a beautiful sunset and some distant flipper slapping. It’s been a wonderful season and it wouldn’t have been possible without our hard working crew, captains, staff, and our 2018 naturalists Bruna Silva, Laura Lilly, Linnea Mayfield, Kelsey O’Toole, Rich Dolan, Ashlyn DeMilia, Chelsi Napoli, Heidi Hansen, and Lorna Blocksma. A special thanks also goes to our 15 hardworking interns that graciously and energetically donated their time to us: Medha Pandey, Mary Liesegang, Annie Bartlett, Caroline Lussier, Charlie Landa, Colin Greeley, Eman Khawaja, Emma Chereskin, Evie Layland, Haley LaMonica, Maddie Collins, Sam Luitjens, Sarah Speroff, Cate Schreck, and Marissa Garcia – we couldn’t do it without you!

Thank you to everyone that enjoys reading our updates, and we are excited to bring them to you once again next year! Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Cheers, Laura H.

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