Thursday, August 7, 2008

Stellwagen Bank Whale Watch observations

Observation #1: Dramamine does not always work as well as advertised.

Observation #2: Whales are amazing.

Departure from Boston Inner Harbor- 9:30am

Whale observations: 10-10:30am

After about the first hour of the trip out, I started to notice the presence of more birds and then some seaweed floating in the water. I presumed that meant that we were at or near Stellwagen Bank. Shortly thereafter, the boat slowed and then stopped at the site where we saw one or two humpback whales surface. The ensuing encounter proved to be one of the most amazing whale watching experiences I have ever had. There was a group of 6-7 individuals, including two mother-calf pairs. Although the animals dove a number of times, they always resurfaced again very close to the boat, giving us about a dozen close views of the group.

What was most awe-inspiring about the animals was just how big they were. They had black smooth-looking skin with remarkably small dorsal fins for their size. When they surfaced to breathe, their double blow holes were visible. Each blow hole appeared to be about 6” across and 8-10" tall on the adults, when they were fully open. It was obvious when the animals were preparing for a deep dive because they would hunch their backs (thus the source of their common name), and that was a good signal to get the cameras ready for shots of their flukes. The flukes are distinctive for every individual (after they turn 2 years old), so these patterns allow observers to identify named individuals. This group had two named individuals – Cajun and Crown, each of which had a calf – and the other individuals did not appear to have names recorded on this boat. The pectoral fins also have distinctive white markings, which appear to glow green under water because of the amount of plankton in the water.

I have seen humpbacks on whale watches a number of times, but today was the first time I got a good close-up view of their faces. It was so amazing to get to see this so close! The undersides of their jaws (comparable to the front of a human’s neck) appear to be ribbed, and the skin surface along their upper jaw (comparable to our cheeks and lips) is covered in bumps called rostral knobs. I believe the tour guide said that these are used to aid when the animals use their rostral ends as battering rams, presumably in fights. I felt really lucky to get to see these features so close and in such detail.

The only thing I was disappointed about today (besides Dramamine’s performance) was that we didn’t get to see any other types of whales. We saw numerous birds, but I am not very familiar with sea birds so was unable to identify anything besides common seagulls. Besides the birds, the only other animals I saw were a number of fish jumping out of the water a distance from the boat, shortly before a different small group of whales surfaced in the same spot. It was difficult to identify the fish, or even the scale of their size since there was nothing to compare them to, but they appeared to be silvery and I guessed they were approximately 2 feet long. Since I couldn’t identify them, it was difficult to guess whether they were hunting the same food the whales were, or were being hunted themselves.

Go Patriots!

No comments: