Friday, August 8, 2008

Observations for August 7, 2008

Thursday, August 7, 2008
Location: Stellwagen Bank, mostly NW corner; New England Aquarium

On our trip to Stellwagen Bank, we tried to identify Baleen whales and observe the behaviors that we could view from our vantage point (which probably changed depending on which deck you chose). As far as I could tell, the only species of Baleen whale that we saw were Humpback Whales. At one point, there was a group, or "association", of six of seven whales feeding very near our boat. We were told that it is rare to see a group this large, and that they would probably stay together for a few hours to about two weeks at most. This association of whales included two mothers and their calves (Cajun and her calf, and Crown? and her calf...can someone help me confirm those names?) and you could easily see the difference in size between the full-grown mother and the maturing calf. While they were feeding, they stayed fairly close to the surface, swimming and using their blow holes. Eventually they all decided to dive, at which point the naturalist on board was able to identify them based on their tail, or fluke pattern. As others have said, I was looking forward to identifying multiple types of Baleen whales, and on this trip we only saw Humpbacks. However, it was truly amazing to see that many creatures of such shear size from such a close distance. Even though I have been on another whale watch that some people might describe as "more exciting", I can certainly say that this whale watch was probably more enjoyable because I felt I understood the whales better from a scientific standpoint and in turn, had more respect for them as living creatures rather than entertainment.

I have to admit that a few of us spent a significant amount of time on the top level of the giant tank at the New England Aquarium. It happened to be feeding time, so there was a lot to see and observe. Downstairs, they had an area with many jellyfish. It was fascinating to see up-close how the large jellyfish moved, something I had never seen before.
The aquarium also had an exhibit on Boston Harbor, Massachusetts Bay and Stellwagen Bank, which are obviously very recent subjects for all of us. I found this map of the harbor islands to be pretty interesting. The pink coloring represents open land (meadow, scrib, and sumac), the blue coloring represents wetlands, the green coloring represents forests, the lighter, almost aqua, blue represents tidal flats, and the parallel lines represent drumlin contours. The pink shading on the map of Lovells Island immediately made me think of the snails in the sumacs that we had found just three days earlier.
I was a little disappointed that none of the tanks in the aquarium seemed to have any sponges in them (perhaps because they wouldn't be very interesting to a general population-the aquarium needs to generate revenue like anyone else to keep their doors open, but this is all total speculation). One thing I did see a lot of, however, were Frilled Anemones. After following a hunch that what I had seen at the Barking Crab was not, in fact, a Frilled Anemone, I had been looking at pictures of anemones to see if I could resolve the matter. Seeing the Frilled Anemones in person certainly did just that. I have yet to confirm what the anemones at the Barking Crab actually were, but I intend to do just that and post it as a comment in my original analysis of the dock. More on this later, but here is a picture of a Frilled Anemone from the aquarium. Case not quite closed.

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