Welcome to Snails to Whales, Bruce Berman's Boston Harbor blog focused on both the little and the big things that make Boston Harbor such an extraordinary place to live, work and play.
It is also a place for my Boston University students and my colleagues at Save the Harbor / Save the Bay to share their work and experiences.
This was my first time whale watching, and I really enjoyed it! Whales are my favorite animal which made this trip extra special. I got some reasonably good photos to share with everyone from the trip.
I don’t really remember
my last whale watch in Cape Cod, but this time of whale watch outside the Boston Harbor, it gave me a fantastic feeling and I learned a lot of things.
The date was Friday, August 1st, the time was
about 11. The weather was nice, sunny and windy with fresh sea breeze. The tide
at that time was low. As we were in the ocean outside the harbor, we witnessed
the power and beauty of the ocean.
At first, we went next to the dock where we fed the
striped basses with onion bread. When we were there for the first time and
threw bread into the water, there were more than 5 striped basses in the water
chasing the bread. But this time, there was only one striped bass in the water.
Then the whole class started to have a debate about why the striped basses were
gone after two weeks? We came up several reasons. First, it can be the weather which
affects the water temperature. Last time the weather was a little bit chilly,
and last Friday it was so hot. The surface of water was kind of hot so that all
the fish prefer to stay on the bottom of the harbor. Also the heat in the water
may decrease the dissolved oxygen rate and fishes don’t want to stay on the
top. The reason can also be the food change that last time; professor fed the
fish with onion bread. Maybe it is the greasy and tasty flavor attack the fish
to come up for food. This time, the food is just hot dog bread. Also the water
flow direction may affect which way they go. But I think they are big enough to
not be affect by the water flow.
As we walked around, sometimes under the dock or on the post
under the water, there was small amount of bright-colored red tunicate stock on
there. I learned some interesting things that tunicates are animals that they
usually flow with the water wave. When they are smashed on any surface, they
will then stick on the surface and start to reproduce to spread the whole
Then we finally got on the whale watch ship to see
whales. At first, the ship was playing the soundtrack of whales, which sound
like people yelling, crying, screaming with super low voice, and I consider
that is very cute. Think it took us almost an hour to get the whale watch
location, Stellwagen Bank. There is a girl on the ship telling us the
information about whales. She said what we would see that day is humpback
whales. Whales eat krill or other smaller fish who gather up all the time to
live. They usually use the “Bubble Net Feeding” strategy to catch fish or
krill. By using bubble to scare fish or krill to get close to each other so
that the whales can swallow a lot once at a time. They don’t have teeth, so
every time they swallow a tons of food, they filter the sea water within the
food and push it out of their body and push the food down to the body. Humpback
whales use to feed on their prey during summer and immigrate to the tropical or
subtropical ocean to reproduce. I think we just saw same two humpback whale
several times, which are North Star and Hippocampus because they have similar
shapes of things on their tails. I realized that the humpback whales came out
of the water for 10 second as its blowhole blows out water and then they slowly
dived into the water with their beautiful tails. Then they are gone as they
dive all the way deep to the ocean and come back up again after 3 to 5 minutes.
My favorite things are its tail and the footprints the humpback whale left as
it dived into the water. I watched the humpback whale slowly getting into the
water and swinging up its black tail with white on the back, and then there was
a special water area appeared. First I thought it was the oil from the whale
flowing on the water. I kind of understand it is caused by the tail which
pushes water up. After searching it online, I quote the introduction of
footprint that “When a whale dives it makes mighty up and down thrusts with its
tail. This causes the water pushed by the tail to well up to the surface
forming slick spots known as whale footprints. Sometimes a series of footprints
marks the path the whale is taking underwater.”(New England Seabirds: humpback
whale). And I also love to see when they blow huge amount of water in the air
from their blowhole.
Another thing is that I finally have a supported conclusion
about where the pieces of broken blue mussels come from. I remember that time
when I went to Fanpier and found a lot of fractured blue mussels and I was
surprised to know that sea gulls dropped them there so that they can break the
shell and eat the mussels. But I always wanted to see how they do that. So when
professor was talking to the whole class about our plan, I noticed there was
one sea gull flied out of water and climbed up really fast, and there was
something black on its beak, and when it was high above the dock, it dropped
the thing, and I gasped (Sorry professor, I didn’t fully pay attention when you
were talking…I am probably an awful student, or a mother or a grandmother in
the future as you said…). Then I realized that was probably a blue mussel. It dropped
on the dock and cracked open, so the seagull can easily take out and eat the
Anyway, it was an amazing whale watch trip day. I have incredible
feeling about these huge, intelligent creatures.
On Friday 08/01/14, the class went whale watching as our last field trip. Before the boat took off everyone was very excited for the trip ahead, but then... the boat started moving. Unfortunately, then not everyone was not so happy. Sea sickness decided to make its way into some on our classmates, and our TA. But, it was all worth it, when we got to the whale watching site we were very informed by our guide that we were about to see Humpback Whales. We saw two Humpbacks, North Star and Hippocampus, they are identified by the marks on their tails.
They weren't very active because they were diving down for food. They dive and stay without breathing for about 4-5minutes at a time to collect their food like plankton and krill. They were very focused on gathering food because when mating season comes around, they travel south to the golf, where there isn't much food to eat. Over all, although they whale weren't very active, they were still an amazing site to see.
Regardless of where the whale watch boat docks, the destination is Stellwagen Bank, a 126 mile Marine Sanctuary that spans from north of Provincetown to east of Cape Ann. Due to the shallow waters here, this area hosts many species including some we have seen; like striped bass and flounder, and some we haven't; like bluefin tuna and spiny dogfish. On the surface of the Bank however there are two species that are more common to see...humans and whales.
My first what watch was in the late 70's, departing from Provincetown, amidst the cheers and boycotts of the champions of Greenpeace, who were there at the docks with their posters highlighting the horrors of whaling. With those images in my mind, I boarded the boat, unsure of what I was embarking on, only to spend an afternoon witnessing the breaching, lob-tailing, flippering and spouting of Salt, a then 35 year younger whale, and her calves. I was awestruck...but it was the 70's so there were no camera phones, no digital media...just a shoddy video on the way out, and the memories you etched into your mind. (below are photos that I tried to take in 1977 with a kodak instant camera!)
Pan forward to 2014, where digital media, a ginormous catamaran and a group of rowdy adults are about to motor out to those same banks as I did 35 years ago, and the results were the same. I still found myself standing at the bow, scanning the horizon for spouts, and rushing from side to side to witness the grace that humpback whales exhibit as we watch.
Humpback whales, one of five species spotted at the Banks, are identified by markings on their tails. The two that surfaced in our presence last Friday were North Star and Hippocampus. Although they were not breaching or showing off, they were incredibly active in their hunt for food. Diving for 3-5 minute stretches, and challenging the captain to keep them in his sights, they came up together often and separately a time or two during our time on the Bank.
Humpback whales feed on plankton, krill, and small fish, usually found close to the ocean floor. Generally when you see the fluke come out of the water, in preparation for a dive, they are heading to the floor to search for food. These whales are often found on coastlines from New England in the summer to the equator in the winter. Although they are only nursed for the first year of their lives, they do not reach full adulthood for at least 10 at which point they can grow to between 40 and 50 feet long and weigh up to 48 TONS!!
Just a quick fun fact before I leave you with a photo that I took at a whale watch the weekend prior to the one for class...whales, unlike humans, do not breathe involuntarily, it is a choice. The fact that they choose to breathe has caused speculation about how they sleep...do they just choose not to breathe or do they shut off their brain???
Sources: My childhood. the lovely ladies that were our hosts on the boat, National Geographic and Animal Planet :-)
My first whale watch was fun, but interesting the boat ride was long and
on the way I found out what it was like to get sea sick. I noticed
that the water got greener the further we got out to sea or out side
Boston harbor, into the Mass bay. The young ladies aboard the boat
explained the water was green because of the algae in the water. The
young ladies said the we would be stopping where the whale usually feed
around this time of the year. She went on explaining what kind of whales
are usually spotted in and around this area. Humpback, Finback, Minke and Pilot whales she explained about the sex of the
whales,that their was no way to identify the sex of the whales, just
that if they see a baby, it was a sure thing that there was a female
around since they care for the babies. The whales we saw Friday where both males, one was called Northstar and Hippocampus.
photo courtesy credit CPE
they where both humpback whales. She explained that humpback whales are
baleen, which mean they fitter their food through baleen plates. Whales
eat crustaceans, like krill, anchovies, mackerel.The larger humpback
whale had a huge scare on it's back, I believe she said it was from a
boating accident that was healing well. I found out that we could spot
where a whales was by looking for a cloud of mist coming from the
water,being blown from the hole in the whales head, which is called the
blowhole. I asked the tour guide when she came around asking if we had
any questioning, what where the white spots on the whales skin and tail
she told me they where barnacles. Which I thought only grew on clams,
rocks,and other things that didn't move fast. I got too see and hold a
whale vertebrae abroad on the trip also. Overall the experience was
life changing, I felt again I had learn something new and was glad to
share my experience with my family.
I woke up on Friday extremely excited about the whale watch field trip as I had never experienced one and I had always wanted to see a whale up and close. Unfortunately, the trip was not as I expected it to be but the end result made it unforgettable.
Everything started when we boarded the Catamaran. This boat was definitely much faster than all the other boats we have boarded in the past (pictures above). The weather was pleasant, but the wind did not help the boat ride. As we started to go deep into the ocean, the boat was going against the tide and current and the movements of the boat caused me to get seasick. Lets just say the feeling during our ride to meet the whales was not enjoyable. I tried to pay attention to our surroundings and the tour lady who was talking about the whales and where we were, but unfortunately I was not able to give my full attention due to the circumstances. Here is what I was able to learn and observe:
The whales migrate to the Boston area during the summer and they locate themselves in one of the most unique parts of the ocean called the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary. The water around the sanctuary is greener than all the other surrounding ocean areas as there is greater amount of vegetation in the bottom of it.
All the whales we saw were Humpback whales. Sometimes they would emerge together, while at other times they would emerge separately. One of the whale's name was North Star. The tour lady announcing and teaching us about them mentioned a couple of other names as they have identify them to learn about each and follow their lives as the years go by.
I learn that when the whale goes down into the ocean and its tail is shown (pictures below), they are diving to obtain food. They stay submerge for about 3 to 4 minutes and then they come back up.
This beautiful specie can grow to about 50 feet and they can weight about 35 to 40 tons per what I was able to learn. I also observed that the whales I saw were black and had some white on them, which are characteristics that identify them. Moreover, their tails are also used to identify them as they can have different marks and color distinctions.
Another interesting fact that I learn was that this whales make "footprints". This prints have a circular form and one can notice the difference on the "texture" of the water which help us located them when they are underwater.
The trip back was much more pleasant as the boat was going with the current and the ginger candy that Professor Berman gave to those who were not feeling well helped a lot. Even though the experience was not what I was expecting, but then again life is full of surprises, the trip in general was worth it. I was able learn about these creatures and observe their temporary habitat in a manner where Discovery Channel can not teach.
Well my friends I hope everyone has a a great rest of the week and I will see you all on Friday.
1, 2, 3, red light...nope its the BHC's catamaran style boat used for, Whale Watching...welcome aboard!
Now how could I have enrolled in a course titled: Snails to Whales without coming to full circle of getting a look at a whale too, not happening!
As I kept my eyes gazed over the open waters, and ears akin to antenna for the whale sighting announcement...at last a pair of humpback emerge. Unfortunately, the pair affectionately named, Hippo campus & North star did not emerge together in my frame.
Arent the people aboard that tiny boat a tad bit scared? Nope, I guess not, since they made no attempt to move out of the dynamic duo's way, just went on business as usual.
So, then here is Hippo campus :)!
On location I was shown a young whales vertebrae which is akin to a cut of meat that I enjoy eating from the ox's tail, called "oxtail".
Lastly, my final picture during our whale watch field trip that I will say so long to North star.
Hello everyone! I had so much fun today! I thought I would share the photos I was able to get from today's whalewatch! Ok, actually, I video taped everything and then did screen shots of the video and then cropped those shots....but they are still pretty nice :)
This one below is actually a picture of the whale's mouth as he is upside down!!