Monday, June 9, 2014

"Seabird and Whale Tales" June 2014

People fishing and observing a humpback whale
On Sunday, June 8, I again went on my favorite New England pelagic trip.  This trip is sponsored twice a year by the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance.  It is called the   What makes it so great is that it is an eight hour trip rather than the usual four hour trips that the normal whale watching boats go out.  Therefore, we can travel to where the whales are and spend more time observing and photographing them, plus hopefully to see different pelagic bird species.

The day was bright and sunny until later afternoon when some clouds that come in.  The temperature on the ocean was in the 60s, without hardly any wind and the seas were smooth.  I met a lot of old friends and found some new friends.

Like last year, most of the whales were congregated off of Chatham Massachusetts.  The trip from Plymouth to the waters off of Chatham took around three hours, with stops to photograph a Parasitic Jaeger, Basking Shark and a large herd of gray seals swimming .
Parasitic Jaeger
Gray Seals
While will were traveling, I was able to help some new photographers with understanding the camera and the exposure triangle, plus the histogram to help them obtain decent photographs on this trip.

Arriving off the coast of Chatham, we did find whales, at least 33 named humpback whales, four new calfs and the Great Dame Of Stellwagon Bank "SALT".  Salt was the first humpback whale named back in 1975 by Capt. Al Aveller, who was the pioneer of whale watching in New England.  Salt has given birth to at least 13 calves, including one this year, plus she is a grandmother, and probably a great grandmother.  This makes the 39th year of Salt's appearance to the coast of New England.
Salt the Grand Am of Stellwagon Bank
Humpback whale head and blow
The power of a humpback whale
Humpback whale feeding with gulls coming in to catch any fish on the surface
Group feeding of humpback whales
One of the more interesting findings was the low number of pelagic birds.  Although we did see all four species of shearwaters, including over 170 sooty shearwaters, we only identified one great shearwater.  Usually great shearwaters are in the abundance around our area.  The reason for the lack of numbers pelagic birds could be food (although there were a lot of sand lances around which would be in fed on by the whales, dolphins, the gulls and bluefish) changes in the climate and the water.  We may have to wait for next year to see what the trend is.

Speaking of gulls, a glaucous gull showed up in the large group of gulls and was immediately identified because of its brilliant white color.

Glaucous Gull
As we were making our way back to Plymouth, we ran across a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins, who size was estimated at around 200 and traveling with them was the second largest baleen whale the fin whale.
Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin and Fin Whale
Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin
As we are approaching Provincetown and Races Point, we sighted another basking shark.  Basking sharks spend a lot of time on the surface, where they eat zooplankton , small fish, and invertebrates.  Because of our time that they spend on the surface, their dorsal fin is sighted by people who think that they may be a great white shark.  Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world, next to the whales shark.
Basking Shark Fin
The next trip will be September 7, 2014 and you can find out more information at