Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June 13, 2010 Seabird & Whale Tales Excursion

June 13th 2010 SAWT Excursion
8 am to 4 pm
Tails of the Sea

Below are trip reports from David Clapp and Joanne Jarzobski. Enjoy!

Trip Report by David Clapp

The day started a bit gloomy and it wasn't until we returned to the harbor eight hours later that we saw the sun. It was foggy offshore all day. It wasn’t cold but it was cool and the rain shower about thirty minutes away from the pier was a bit of an eyeopener. The Captain John boat with a group of hardy whale and bird watchers aboard headed east toward Stellwagen Bank.

The sands of Duxbury Beach were not visible through the fog but Long Beach (Plymouth Beach) was seen pretty well as we left the harbor. There are few mammal predators on the beach this year so the tern colony that has been on the sandy stretch was solid and even larger than last year. It appears that there are 5000 pairs of Common Terns and a few pairs of Arctic and Roseate terns. The Least Terns are there as well but their breeding numbers are a bit fluid. There have been as many as 100 pairs of Least Tern but there have also been years with none. We saw a single Black Skimmer as we returned to the harbor at about 4:00pm.

There are about 20 pairs of Piping Plover on the beach and a scattering of other nesting birds. Beach management has been improved and tightened in the past decade and it seems that nesting success has improved for all species. The limiting (or removing) of dogs, 4x4 vehicles, and casual use of the nesting areas has provided safe harbor for the birds.

We passed through the bay and on toward Provincetown. Though we had drizzle and fog the first Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters appeared in mid-bay. By the time we reached the SE corner of the bank we had a nice gathering of whales and sea birds.

There were over ten whales that Joanne Jarzobski and Krill Carson recognized by name and three of these had calves. Joanne has written an overview of the whale sightings from today's trip. So for more detailed information, see her report below. Helping with the humpback identifications were Kelly and Orla from the Whale Center of New England. In the mists out along the horizon there were spouts and blows all over the place. There could have been another 30 whales around us; there certainly were another fifteen. There were Humpbacks feeding all around the boat for almost an hour. there were a few Minke Whales that cut through the area as well.

The calves were a bit frisky and there was quite a bit of spy-hopping, tail lobbing, and breaching. The mothers were feeding continually and Sand Lance were evident in the water. The youngsters tagged along with the adults but were not competent feeders yet. It was a busy time for all of us; whales and whale-watchers.

There were quite a few Atlantic White-sided Dolphins as well. They are very difficult to count but there were times when 10-20 were in sight at once. If there were lots of smallish groups there could have been as many as 50. If there was jus one or two groups that kept appearing and reappearing then the number could be half that.

With Blair Nikula, Peter Flood, Jim Sweeney, Nancy Swirka, and David Clapp along, there were birders all over the deck. Though it was only mid-June and the water is still quite cool many sea bird species had been reported. There was even a report of a Cory’s Shearwater earlier this week. Our visibility was limited but we did pretty well. It is alway fun to listen to the birders as they compare notes and try to come up with reasonable sightings estimates. First you deal with the number; were there really 150 storm-petrels? After the number is derived the other questions pop up; Do you really think there were more Greater Shearwaters than Sootys?

After all was said and done we were sure that whatever number we cited it would relate only to what we saw within the small ring of visibility that we had and have little semblance to the number we could have seen on a clear or the number of bird that are out there. There are surely more birds and whales out there and the numbers would have been much higher if we had had better visibility.

David Clapp

Whale Report by Joanne Jarzobski

We ventured out across the southern edge of Stellwagen Bank, passing through the SW corner on our way to the SE corner. Both of these areas are historically good areas to find ways. It can vary from year to year or even month to month which is more popular to the whales, sometimes neither being productive enough areas for large congregations of whales; or perhaps another area being so productive they don’t move inshore to Stellwagen Bank.

On the SE edge of Stellwagen Bank we found 12+ feeding humpback whales! It was the first surface feeding seen out there in nearly a month, so an exciting display of behaviors to observe. Whales were kick feeding (smacking their tails against the surface of the water to help stun the prey) then blowing bubbles in clouds or nets to help trap the schools of sand eels (aka sand lance). Kick feeding is a unique behavior to Gulf of Maine humpback whales, as they do not demonstrate this behavior in other areas of the world. Humpback whales can be quite individually specific to a certain style of feeding and typically kick a specified number of times or always blow bubble clouds or bubble nets. All around the boat and in every direction we had feeding.

We began our trip with a pair, which included Scratch and Freefall. Scratch is a mature female first seen in 1979. She's had at least 7 calves since her first sighting in 1979, one of which (Stout) spent two years with her before being fully weaned. Most humpback whales leave their mother after 9-12 months, but Stout stayed with Scratch during its yearling year.

Scratch and Freefall had formed an association (traveling together). Associations among humpbacks may last a few hours, just minutes, or sometimes even days. While all baleen whale are considered solitary animals, humpbacks are very social and associations form, especially while feeding.

In the same area, we came across a mother and calf pair, Reaper and calf, which was one of the first sightings of this pair for the year, making it the 18th cow/calf documented to date. Reaper is well known for her dramatic kickfeeding, lifting her tail and kicking 2-3 times before circling down and blowing bubbles. She was coming up with her mouth wide open and dragged (swam with her chin/head out of the water) after each surface. This is a behavior that is also very individually specific--some whales drag, some do not--Reaper is a dragger. Reaper had very fresh, raw scuffing on her right jaw, indicative of bottom feeding recently. Like most humans, she is right handed, and feeds with her right side down. Only a small number of GoM humpbacks feed with their left side down when bottom feeding.

Reaper was born in 1987 to Andromeda and therefore is 23 years old this year. Her name was chosen for a mark on her left fluke that resembles the scythe of the grim reaper. This calf is her fourth known calf, as she also had calves in 1998 (her first), 2003, & 2007.

Reaper’s calf stayed very near to mom while she fed, as the calf is likely not eating fish yet and still surviving completely on nursing a high fat milk from Reaper. In the next few months, the calves will start to learn to catch fish and by late fall should be fully weaned.

We quickly recognized a few more feeding whales, including Milkweed and Wyoming. Wyoming is a mature male first seen in 1988. His exact age is not known, as he wasn’t a calf when first sighted. Milkweed is a mature 10 year old female, her mother is a whale named Zeppelin and her grandmother is Milkyway, both of which are seen regularly on Stellwagen Bank and in the Gulf of Maine. Humpback whales have very strong site fidelity and return to the waters their mothers brought them to as calves, as seen for 3 generations of this family. Milkweed has yet to produce a calf of her own that has been documented, but she hopefully will very soon.

As we watched these whales feed, more moved into the area. Bait could be seen breaking the surface of the water, looking and sounding like rain on the water’s surface. A mature male whale named Putter came into the area. Putter was born in 1993 to a whale named Mars. He was not seen again until he was sighted in 1998 pale and gray from a life threatening entanglement in fishing gear. Three attempts were made to disentangle him by a team from Provincetown, with the help of whale watching boats standing by. Some of the gear was successfully removed and the remainder of gillnet came off over the next few weeks. His grey, sloughing skin returned to a shiny black. Putter has been seen every year since his disentanglement. Today, he did not disappoint displaying very dramatic feeding, coming to the surface with his mouth wide open, giving us a chance to see his baleen plates. At one close passing off our bow, we could see some of the sand eels escaping out the sides of his mouth.

Two more mothers and calves were in the area feeding, including Cajun + calf and Whisk + calf. We also had Pele and Jabiru come through feeding. Dramatic green patches of bubbles could be seen right before whales surfaced through the center. For nearly 2 hours, we watched the feeding whales.

In addition to the humpbacks, we had a few sightings of minke whales (the smallest of the baleen whales we see here) and a pod of 30-50 Atlantic White Sided dolphins.

The dolphins were in association with one of the cow/calf pairs and seemed to be closely associated with the calf. One of the dolphins had a tag on it, and was likely a rescue from a stranding along Cape Cod this past winter/spring. We passed this information on to the stranding folks at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) who is responsible for rescuing stranded marine mammals along Cape Cod. Cape Cod has the second highest level of marine mammal strandings anywhere in the world, only surpassed by New Zealand. Frequently, marine mammals get stranded along our shores and teams of responders and volunteers work to get them back on the water safely.

Once the tide changed, the behavior also changed, which typically happens. Feeding almost always stops when the tide goes slack, which is also true for fishing. Thankfully for us, when the feeding stopped, the whales started doing aerials-- jumping out of the water! We had four different whales breaching (including one of the calves), but the most active was a whale named Pele. He appeared to be trying to form an association with one of the cow/calf pairs and was putting on a display of aerials, breaching and flipper slapping. We often see aerials when an association is joining or breaking apart, perhaps the whales are communicating something with such behaviors.

Joanne Jarzobski

Marine Wildlife Numbers:


Sooty Shearwater 200

Greater Shearwater 85

Northern Gannett 12

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel 100

Common Loon 2

Great Egret 1

Barn Swallow 1

Herring Gull xxx

Great Black-backed Gull xxx

Laughing Gull

Common Tern 1000+

Roseate Tern 1

Black Skimmer 1

Humpback Whales: (15)
Reaper and calf
Cajun and calf
Whisk and calf

Other Whale Species:
minke whales (4)
Atlantic white-sided dolphins (30 - 50)

Gray Seal (1) enjoying a dogfish lunch

Friday, June 11, 2010

Seabird & Whale Tales Excursion - Sunday, September 13th from 8 am - 4 pm

Post on June 13, 2010 at 6:am - We are a GO!

Meet me down at the Town Wharf by 7:30 am. Departure is 8:00 am sharp! See you soon and get some coffee!!!!

Post on June 12, 2010 at 7:45 pm - All day trip is still a GO!

Hi: we are a GO for tomorrow's all day trip. Please be down at the Town Wharf by 7:30 am for we will try to board at that time. We will want to leave the dock by 8 am sharp!

Dress appropriately for there is still a chance of rain. Dress in layers and bring rain gear. We do have a heated cabin on the lower deck, but you will want to be outside with the whales and seabirds.

Call me if you have any problems or questions. My cell phone is 508-566-0009.

Looking forward to an exciting day offshore.

Best, Krill

Post on June 11, 2010: Our all day trip on Sunday is a GO!

Please check this site for updates on our all day trip scheduled for Sunday, June 13th from 8 am to 4 pm.

Due to the forecast of possible rain, please dress accordingly. The whales and seabirds are wet anyways so they are just as visible and active on a rainy day as they are on a clear day. And don't forget that it is typically 15 degrees cooler offshore than on the mainland so dress warm.

Bring your cameras and your binoculars and enjoy! Remember, there are no guarantees when one is viewing marine wildlife. However, we do guarantee that you will have a great time with great people.

Guest naturalists are Joanne Jarzobski from Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours, David Clapp from Natural History Services and Jim Sweeney from Cape Cod Bird Club.

Tickets are still available. Call Krill at 508-566-0009 or email her at krillcarson@mac.com.

Hope to see you offshore and thanks for your support!

Best, Krill

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Salt, the Humpback Whale Presentation for Middleboro Kindergarten Students

NECWA staff members Lauren Midi, Dominica Webster and Krill Carson along with volunteer Mary Nash spent two full days introducing Kindergarten students at the Memorial Early Childhood Center to the unique marine wildlife in our area. This 2-day program was sponsored by NECWA and Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours, operating out of Plymouth Harbor. Visit their website at www.captjohn.com.

Lauren and Dominica did the majority of the presentations that focused on Salt, the most famous humpback whale in the world and the ambassador for all marine wildlife in the New England area.

Salt was first seen in 1976 and returns to our New England waters to feed on fish and zooplankton each season. This season, she is offshore with her 12th calf named Zelle. Not only did students learn about Salt and her offspring, but they also sang a song in her honor. This song incorporated key terms as well as movements using props of Salt's tail.

Next, Lauren and Dominica inflated NECWA's fabric whale, Crystal. This model was made by NECWA staff member Pat Mancini and represents the size that Crystal would have been on his first birthday. Crystal is a male humpback whale who is the first known calf of Salt. Although calves only stay with their moms for one year, they return to the same feeding areas that mom introduced them their first year of life. And so we continue to see both Salt, Crystal and the rest of their family offshore each season.

Students had a fun time looking into Crystal's mouth as the wind from the fan whipped around their faces.

After this introduction to humpback whales, marine wildlife and Crystal, students had fun rotating through 4 hands-on learning stations. One station was the blubber glove where students learned why blubber is so important to keeping these endangered marine mammals warm.

A second station was the display table that had neat things for the students to look at and examine including whale bones (large and small), baleen and prey items. A third station was a filtering activity where students learned why it is so important to keep our oceans clean. And the fourth station was an activity where students used either tongs (teeth) or brushes (baleen) to figure out why some baleen whales prefer zooplankton while toothed whales prefer fish.

Manning these stations were NECWA staff, teachers and parent volunteers. Most of the volunteers were moms who did a fantastic job making each station fun and exciting! Thanks again to all the volunteers who helped with the educational learning stations. NECWA could not have provided such a wonderful program without your help and assistance.

We want to thank the teachers and administration at the Memorial Early Childhood Center, especially Beth Fauvell and Principal Virginia Levesque for organizing this program making it possible for NECWA to spread their message of conservation and concern. The reaction from students, parents and teachers alike was very positive as NECWA was able to introduce and review content in the field of marine science in a fun, exciting and meaningful way.