Sunday, September 26, 2010

Interns onboard Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours

(Dominica and Tammy collecting data aboard Captain John Boats)

As we come class to the end of our whale watch season, we want to thank all our NECWA interns for a job well done. Many have already headed off to college and we miss them dearly. But we still have a few at home including Nick and Bob as well as Dominica and Tammy (see photo above).

Our NECWA interns have worked hard all summer recording and analyzing data collected during whale watching trips aboard vessels owned and operated by Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours. There is more work to do even as the whale watching season comes to an end, and we will be working with our interns to make sure that all their data gets analyzed and shared with other research groups in the New England area.

Captain John Boats operates out of Plymouth Harbor and offers an variety of public and chartered trips including whale watching, fishing trips and specialty cruises such as their Cape Cod Canal and Lobster Dinner Cruise.

(Photo courtesy of Warren Disbrow)

A BIG thank you goes to Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours for helping to provide internship opportunities to these young people interested in the field of marine biology. Captain John provided two free tickets each day for use by our NECWA interns. Without Captain John's continued support and interest, NECWA could not provide such a comprehensive and meaningful internship program to students and professionals in the New England area.

To learn more about Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours, go to their website at

Rappin for Raptors Festival - September 25

Lots of wonderful photos of the festival. Keep scrolling down to read about this fabulous event!

Rappin for Raptors Festival at the Boston Nature Center - Krill

Today, Captain John Boats was one of the exhibitors at the Rappin for Raptors festival held at the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan, MA. This annual festival is sponsored by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Even though the festival name highlights raptors, there were lots of other topics and activities focusing on other local animals, including reptiles, insects, whales and sharks. And there was a fabulous steel band by local kids in the area. They sounded fabulous!

Krill set up an educational display along with free educational literature and a number of hands-on activities. With the help of Mary Nash and Shaya French , both volunteers from the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance, Captain John's tables was one of the busies in the festival.

There were lots of neat whale and shark artifacts on display for kids and adults to look at and learn about. A few of the items on display included baleen from a humpback whale, teeth from a sperm whale and a Mako shark jaw. The hit of the show were the shark jaws as kids couldn't believe how many extra teeth were hidden inside the jaw.

Captain John provided 3 hands-on activities for kids of all ages. For the youngest children, a shark tooth dig was provided. Here children could dig through a large tray full of sand, shells, sea glass in order to find fossil shark teeth. We would like to thank Frank Roberts for the shark teeth donation. This donation allowed each child to walk away with one shark tooth and a few shells.

A second activity was the blubber glove. Here kids learn about the benefits of whale blubber and how it insulates these large mammals in a very cold environment. Children are asked to put their hand in cold, icy water using a sealed glove. First they use a glove that has vegetable shortening inside. The vegetable shortening is used to simulate whale blubbler. Then they are asked to use a glove without any shortening inside. The kids are amazed to see how blubber really makes a difference in helping keep you warm from the icy waters.

A third learning activity involved a filtering activity where children use whale model on brushes and simulate the feeding movements of whales in our waters. First they filter in a tray that represents a "clean" ocean where on plankton (aka parsley) is floating in it. Then they try to filter their food (aka parsely) through a "dirty" ocean, an ocean full of marine debris like balloons, plastics and abandoned or lost fishing nets. These children learn that it is not easy, if not impossible, to not get marine debris in your mouth when feeding.

Just looking at the pictures that I took, it is clear that everyone had a fabulous time. Our hats are off to the staff and volunteers of the Boston Nature Center for putting on such a wonderful festival. And we thank them for inviting Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours along with the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance to be part of this wonderful event.

See you next fall!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ocean Sunfish Level A Examination - North Truro, MA

On September 15th, IFAW's Marine Mammal Rescue team received a call from Tom about a dead ocean sunfish that washed ashore on a beach in North Truro. Tom works for Kalmar Village, a beautiful and quaint group of cottages that sit right along the beach area in North Truro. Tom found this ocean sunfish carcass when he was walking along the water's edge.

Krill and Dominica headed down to examine this carcass the next day, but were not able to connect with Tom. So they returned on the 18th and worked with Tom, his wife Casey and their assistant Andy. Tom had pulled the sunfish up above the high tide line to make sure that it didn't wash away before Krill and Dominica could examine it. This was wonderful in the sense that the carcass was not going to refloat itself on the next high tide. But it also meant that the carcass had been festering under a blue tarp for a few days.

If you have ever been around an ocean sunfish carcass, you can attest to the fact that they stink more than any other fish. And this one was a beauty!

Because the carcass was pretty decomposed, Krill was only able to conduct a Level A Examination. This involves collecting body measurements, skin/muscle tissue and vertebra for age determination studies. It also allows researchers to determine the sex of the sunfish and this big fella was a boy!

But the carcass was too decomposed to even attempt a full necrospy or animal autopsy. So after the Level A Examination was over, Tom hitched the blue tarp up to the truck and towed it out to the tidal flats so the carcass could float away. Krill opened the carcass up so scavengers like gulls could get at the yummy body parts like the liver and intestines. Not much else you can do with a 6 foot carcass. No one wants the carcass and they are very difficult to bury unless they are taken apart during necropsy activities.

To make sure this carcass can be identified in the future, if it were ever to wash ashore again, Krill attached a pink tie cable through the dorsal fin. If anyone sees this carcass, please report its location immediately to Krill. Email her at or call her cell at 508-566-0009.

A BIG thank you to Dominica for helping Krill chase down this elusive carcass as well as assisting with the Level A Examination. And thanks for putting up with the awful smell as Dominica had to ride home in Krill's Camery after the sunfish bones had been baking in the car for two hours. The smell was so bad that as Krill and Dominica drove back to Plymouth that evening, the car windows had to be open or else the smell would have consumed both driver and passenger. And Dominica had to keep spraying Fabriz in the car to try and combat the smell. Boy does NECWA need a truck for this kind of work!

NECWA also sends a BIG thank you to Tom, Casey and Andy for all their help and support. This examination would not have been possible without their efforts and time. Each sunfish, alive or dead, provides valuable information that is helping biologists and researchers better understand the ocean sunfish, a strange and amazing fish that feeds off Cape Cod each summer and fall. Not too many people could have put up with the stench from this carcass, but Tom, Casey and Andy were not deterred from helping in any way. Our hats are off to you guys!