Monday, June 10, 2013

"Sea Bird and Whale Tales Excursion" June 2013

Humpback Whale Feeding
For the fourth year in a row and the third year that I have been writing about it on my blog, I joined the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA) June all day "Sea Bird and Whale Tales Excursion".  NECWA sponsors this excursion twice a year, in June and September, and and the advantage over a normal whale watching trip is it last eight hours, a normal will watching trip usually only last the maximum of four hours.  This year, just like last year, after Memorial Day, the the whales have moved southward from Stellwagon Bank down to off of Chatham, following the food supply.  What this meant, was instead of a 1 to 1 1/2 hour trip out to Stellwagon from Plymouth, it is a approximately 3 hour trip down to Chatham.  On the way, there was some of the normal bird sightings, including a Jaeger.  When we reached the area off of Chatham, in the words of Scotty in the movie "Star Trek the voyage home."  "Capt. there be whales here".  The water was alive with sand lances, and all around us whales were feeding.  The humpback whales were using different methods of feeding, including bubble nets, tail slapping, and fin slapping.
Bubble Cloud
What was really unusual, there was a group of 8-10 whales working in consort to create a large bubble net and then feeding.  As the bubble nets were formed, the shearwaters, gulls, and terns would head over to it to start picking up the sand lances that were on the surface.  Because of the way the whales were positioning themselves, this year, we were able to look right down the whales throat. 
View down a Humpback's Throat with the Baleen Plates hanging
Overall on the trip, we saw around 50 to 60 humpback whales, not counting some minke whales and at least one fin whale.  Also, we had the first sighting of the year of Salt.  Salt is the first of the humpbacks to be named and was identified in 1975.  Salt is considered to be the grande dame of Stellwagon bank.  Her history can be viewed at http://www.coastalstudies.org/what-we-do/humpback-whales/salt.htm.  At one point, there were whales to the right of us, wheels to the left of us, whales in front of us and whales, behind us.  In total, we spent around 9 1/2 hours on the water and traveled approximately 150 miles, on a beautiful sunny day with some clouds and basically a smooth sea.  The New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance next excursion will be on Sunday, September 8 from 10 AM to 6 PM.  If you want a fun, informative and great day, think about joining the fall excursion http://www.necwa.org/trips.html.
Group of Humpback's feeding

Flipper slap

Salt's Tail