Monday, September 9, 2013

Fall Seabird and Whale Tale ExcursionAnd Humpback Whales

Humpback Whale Calf Head
On Sunday, September 8 the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance held their annual fall Seabird and Whale Tale Excursion.  Normally, the trip would concentrate around Provincetown and the Stellwagon Bank.  However, lately there has been a lack of sightings of whales and seabirds in this area, so the plan was to travel down to the waters off of Chatham, where on the spring excursion we had a lot of sightings.  The day was sunny and warm, and the seas were calm.  As we were traveling down, Wayne Peterson, from the Massachusetts Audubon Society, gave a discourse on some of the reasons for the lack of seabirds and cetaceans in the area.  Citing that it is a complex problem, and deals with the entire food chain from phytoplankton all away up to the larger fish.  This could be just a normal cyclic event, but needs to be watched in the future.

As opposed to the spring excursion when we had 50 humpback whales feeding, on this trip, we only encountered three humpback whales.  These three humpback whales did put on a show for us.  Two of the whales identified, was Nine with her calf and the other whale was Lava.  Nine and her calf gave us great looks and approaches around and under our ship.  At one point, the calf started swimming around very actively and then dove, I said watch it's going to breach and it sure did given us two breaches.


Humpback Whale Calf Diving

Humpback Whale Breach

Humpback Whale Breach
 In the distance, another whale was seen breaching and when we were clear of Nine and her calf.  We made our way towards the other whale.  The whale was identified as Lava and gave us a look at tail slapping and flipper slapping.
Humpback Whale Tail Slapping

Humpback Whale Tail Slapping

Humpback Whale Flipper Slapping

Humpback Whale Flipper Slapping

Humpback Whale Tail in a Dive




Humpback whales scientific name is Megaptera novaeangliae which means Giant Wing New Englander, pertaining to their extremely long flippers and that they were cited frequently off the New England coast.

Breaching, tail slapping, flipper slapping activities of humpback whales, the real reason for these activities is not known, but there are a number of theories.  Some of the theories is communication, trying to clear mites from their body, or maybe just playtime.  My friend, Dr. Peter Beamish, from Newfoundland who has been studying humpback whale behavior feels that these activities are really communication because sound waves travel long distances on the water and the whales can't communicate, saying possibly come here to other whales or don't come here, depending on the presence or lack of food.  Maybe we'll never know.

On this trip, besides some of the normal birds that we saw, we also saw a shark and pods of common and Atlantic white sided dolphins.

The trip back was an adventure, from a gentle sea to a sea that had waves at times up to 10 feet.  The boat was going up and down with the Than trying to miss the deep troughs and the water was splashing over the bow.  They got really rough around races point, at which a number of the participants got mal de mer.  The crew and volunteers from the New England Coastal Alliance go to sleep.  We gone, narrowing the was Kyle some them up for a minute were very good and help in all these people.