Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Whale Watching Trips August 22, 2010
11 am Whale Watch - Krill
Southeast winds were increasing as we headed offshore to the east side of Stellwagen Bank. Our first sighting was a group of 6 humpbacks that included Cajun and her calf, Milkweed, Pele, Apex and Jabiru. The adults were feeding deep while Cajun's calf was being quite active at the surface.
This playful calf was breaching (jumping) out of the water repeatedly. At first the calf was spinning head breaching, but the calf threw in some tail breaches and chin breaches as well. We see a lot of active behaviors being exhibited from our calves each and every day. One reason that calves are so active is that they are just as playful and lively as the young of most other mammals. And the calves are still nursing from their mom's so they have unlimited access to their food supply. Unlimited access to an energy source means they can afford to be as active as they like. And as mom feeds deep beneath the water's surface, Cajun's calf continued to show us just as playful and exuberant young humpbacks can be.
As the adults came back to the surface to breath, Cajun's calf swam quickly over to its mother's side. As they dove, side-by-side, I was able to get a neat shot of both the calf's and the mother's ventral tail pattern. Although similar in the amount of white and black pigmentation, you can still see that there are differences between the patterns. No two humpbacks have the same tail pattern so biologists can use these unique patterns as a type of fingerprint that identifies one humpback from another.
In this same area, we saw two other groups of humpbacks that also appeared to be feeding deep. The first group was comprised of 4 humpback whales that included Canopy, Draco (see image above) and Citation. Citation has a calf this season, but we did not see the calf traveling near the mom. Not to worry though, since the calves are older now and do spend more time away from mom. But we will be looking the next time we see Citation to make sure that her calf is indeed with her.
The other grouping of humpbacks included Eruption, Blackhole and Bolide (see image above). Both Blackhole and Bolide have black tail patterns, but Bolide has a thin white line that extends down vertically on the left ventral fluke. Humpbacks with very white or very black tail patterns are the hardest to identify. But you can still figure out which individual you have if you examine other body features and pigmentation patterns including the dorsal fin (the fin on the back of the whale, and the trailing edge pattern of the fluke.
As we slowly moved out of the area and started heading back to Plymouth Harbor, we saw splashing a mile in front of us. We assumed we had another active humpback calf for the animal was small in size. However and to our utter delight, we realized that the animal breaching repeatedly out of the water was a minke whale.
All whales breach out of the water, but humpbacks breach more often than other whales. So to see a minke whale breach time and time again was fabulous not only for our passengers onboard, but also for the captain and crew. In over 30 years of working as a field biologist offshore on both the east and west coast of the United States, I myself have only seen breaching by a minke whale on a handful of occasions. And the looks we got today were the best ever!
This wonderful species of baleen whale is the species that is currently taking the brunt of commercial whaling conducted by Japan, Iceland and Norway. If only the governments of these countries would step back and contemplate their actions. Whales are not the property of any country and they deserve to live free in the world's oceans. And if it is all about money, which for these countries it is, then whales are worth more alive then dead.
Whale watching is one of the fastest growing eco-tourisms in the world. Not only is it a lucrative industry, but communities that offer whale watching from their shores, benefit as people flock into their areas. Whale Watchers spend money in local restaurants, hotels and other businesses. Millions of dollars of revenues come into these areas as a direct result of people who go whale watching.