Thursday, March 31, 2011

First Whale Watch with Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours

Whale Watching Trip on Saturday, March 26th with Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours.

NECWA interns Tammy and Nick joined Krill for what was the first whale watching trip of the season for Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours ( out of Plymouth Harbor.

NECWA would like to take a moment to thank Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours for their continued support of our internship program for high school and college students in the New England area. Their support allows our interns access to the unique marine wildlife off New England. We hope you can support this company by joining them for a whale watch or fishing trip this season. Check out their website to learn more about trips, times and schedules. Go to to learn more.

We were treated to bright sunny skies and beautiful view of Plymouth Harbor as we prepared to leave the dock. Excitement was in the air as this was our first trip offshore after being land-locked all winter.

What was really great was the chance to reconnect with good friends and colleagues, including crew members Ron and Steve, Captain Johnny and naturalist extraordinaire Joanne.

As we passed the State Pier, we got a close-up and personal view of the Mayflower II which recently returned from Fairhaven where she has been docked for much of the winter.

And as we moved along Plymouth Beach, we had great views of geese and seaducks including, Brant Geese, Common Eiders and Longtailed Ducks.

As we traveled past the Duxbury Pier Lighthouse, also called Bug Light by local fishermen, we observed quite a few harbor seals resting on the rocks. This is not an uncommon sight in the spring, especially during low tide. Harbor seals are quite abundant in our waters during the winter and early spring. Soon, they will migrate north to pup and continue to feed. But for now, they are very content to enjoy our cold, yet productive waters.

Continuing on our way offshore, we passed Gurnet Point and moved into Cape Cod Bay. Our destination were the waters off Race Point, the tip of Cape Cod. We were hoping to find humpback whales and finback whales that might be feeding just off Race Point or in Cape Cod Bay. At this time of the year, these are often places where whales congregate as they feed close to shore.

This is also the time of year when North Atlantic Right Whales come close to shore to feed on large blooms of plankton. Because this species if the most endangered of all the large baleen whales, federal regulations stipulate that all vessels remain 500 yards away. If a right whale surfaces closer to your vessel than 500 yards, you are required to slowly move out of the area.

To see a right whale is truly a sighting of a lifetime since there are fewer than 450 animals remaining in the western North Atlantic. Using binoculars and cameras with large zoom lenses, one can get a decent look at this amazing species that is so critically endangered. But the best right whale watching is from shore given the federal restrictions. If you have a chance to drive down to Provincetown in the spring, take time to walk the beaches of Herring Cover and Race Point and keep an sharp eye out for whales close to shore, including right whales.

While offshore, we even got a chance to see a flock of razorbills flying in tight formation just off the starboard side of the boat. These cold-water birds are common to our area only in the winter and spring. In a few weeks, most will head further north to breed and feed off Maine and Canada.

As we continued our journey past Race Point, we picked up a harbor seal that was resting at the surface with its nose up in the air. What a great look at a beautiful marine animal that also feeds in our waters this time of the year.

As we sat and watched the seal, we noticed a few fins cutting through the water. These turned out to be dolphins, probably Atlantic white-sided dolphins, the most common dolphin in our area. We also saw smaller, more triangular dorsal fins telling us that the little harbor porpoise was also in the area. The rough seas made it difficult to see the bodies of these small animals, but we did see the dorsal fins cutting through the water.

Nick and Tammy helped Krill collect sighting data and photographs on all the marine wildlife that was seen over the course of the trip. In all, we spotted over 30 right whales that were feeding all along the shores of Cape Cod from inside Cape Cod Bay to the backside of the Cape as far as Highland Light in Truro.

Also in that area were quite a few commercial fishing vessels and a few of these vessels were moving right through the area where right whales were feeding. Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours is very concerned about the safety and future of the right whale population. That is why we strictly adhere to the federal guidelines and regulations for whale watching.

One stipulation is that all mariners are required to report all right whale sightings to the National Marine Fishiers Service (NMFS). So later that day, Krill made the call to the NMFS hotline and provided all of our sightings information to the Right Whale Sighting Advisory System that is run by NMFS. Check out their website at

Unfortunately, we were never able to find humpback whales or finback whales, but we had distant sightings of right whales and great sightings of seals, seabirds, dolphins and porpoises. A few days after this trip, friends of Captain John who live on Cape Cod called to say that humpbacks and finbacks have recently been seen off Race Point. We can't wait to get offshore again for another great adventure with some of the most endangered and special marine wildlife on the planet.

The next whale watches scheduled with Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours out of Plymouth Harbor are on Saturday, April 9 and Sunday April 10. To register online or to learn more, go to their website at

Friday, March 18, 2011

Salt, the Humpback Whale Presentation at Center School, Mattapoisett

Today, Krill met with Tammy Kelley and her First Grade class at the Center School in Mattaopoisett. Tammy has been teaching her students about whales and other marine wildlife and invited Krill to come in and speak to her students.

Krill was amazed at how much these young learners knew about whales and the other marine wildlife found off Cape Cod. Not only were Tammy's students knowledgable about marine wildlife, but they were curious about whales and excited about learning more.

Tammy's students enjoyed handling all the neat marine wildlife artifacts that Krill brought to their classroom including humpback baleen, a large whale vertebrae and preserved samples of what whales and other marine wildlife eat when in our waters.

The students also enjoyed watching the PPT presentation that Krill put together for this very special day, which also turned out to be Saint Patrick's Day. Tammy's students had fun using the whale tail props they made when singing the "Salt, the Humpback Whale" song.

But the most fun was had by one and all when Krill inflated Crystal, a fabric whale that is the size of a one-year old humpback whale. Crystal is Salt's first known calf and he was born in 1980. These kids were amazed at how large Crystal was when he was just one years old and couldn't imagine just how large he is today. A few years ago, NECWA staff member Pat Mancini created Crystal and this inflatable whale has been a huge hit with kids and adults ever since.

NECWA would like to send a big "thank you" to Tammy Kelley and her amazing students. Krill thoroughly enjoyed spending time with these young and enthusiastic learners and had just as much fun as the kids. It was clear that Tammy Kelley has done a wonderful job with her students for they now only "knew their stuff" but they were excited, enthusiastic and eager to learn more.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cape Cod Natural History Conference March 12, 2011

Ocean Sunfish Presentation at the 16th Annual Cape Cod Natural History Conference.

Today Tammy Silva and Krill Carson presented NECWA's findings on ocean sunfish strandings on Cape Cod beaches from 2008 - 2010 at the 16th Annual Cape Cod Natural History Conference. This conference is sponsored by Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay and is one of the nicest community-based conferences held in the state. Each March, Mass Audubon puts together a wide variety of presentations that focus on the geology, history and biology of Cape Cod. And each year the conference gets better and better with more exciting talks and posters presented by scientists, researchers, students and professionals within the community.

Thanks to Tammy Silva for all her work on this presentation. She did an amazing job of putting the presentation together and presenting the findings at this conference. Thanks also to Nick Schomburg, Patty Grace and Caitlyn Dionne for their help at the conference in terms of manning NECWA's educational table. Tammy, Nick, Patty and Caitlyn have all participated in ocean sunfish strandings and we thank them for their time and efforts this year and in past years.

And a big thank you to Bob Prescott and the staff of Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay for their support with this project over the years. Bob and Krill conducted the first ocean sunfish necropsies in 2008 and from this work, they established the protocols and procedures used by NECWA today.

Through NECWA' s activities since this project began in 2005, we have collected the largest database on stranded ocean sunfish in the western North Atlantic. However, we could not have accomplished all we have without the help of many other organizations, colleagues, friends as well as the general public. Big thank you to Dr. John Jahoda from Bridgewater State University and Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours (

Thanks also to Cape Cod Consultants (Don Lewis and Susan Nourse) for all their help and assistance over the years. Don and Susan are always great at contacting NECWA about ocean sunfish strandings and providing information on those carcasses that NECWA can not access.

Thanks also to the staff of the IFAW Marine Mammal Research and Research program and to the Cape Cod Canal Ranger, DNR and DEC for passing along ocean sunfish stranding information to NECWA from their staff, members and public volunteers.

And thanks to all the NECWA staff, interns and volunteers who have assisted with this project over the years including: Maya Jaklitsch, Nick Schomburg, Cory Heston, Tammy Silva, Ann Cook, Patty Grace, Caitlyn Dionne, Leah Horeanopoulos, Marianne Barrette, Belinda Rubinstein, Rick Buker, Dominica Webster and Bob Edgren.

And a big thanks to all the NECWA supporters and the general public, including Owen Nichols, Phil Kyle, Greg McGrath and the many others who have taken the time to report sightings of live and dead animals and to assist with stranding activities. If I forgot to mention anyone, please forgive me and send me an email reminding me of your involvement.

Help us continue to discover the wonders and beauty of the ocean sunfish by reporting your sightings, both live and dead, on the beach and offshore, to the NEBShark website. Go to and input your sightings to help us learn more about the biology and ecology of this very unusual and amazing coastal pelagic fish.

Thank you!