Monday, June 10, 2013

Sighting Report for our June 9, 2013 Seabird & Whale Tales Excursion

Seabird and Whale Tales Excursion - Sunday, June 9, 2013

We had a fabulous day offshore for our annual Seabird & Whale Tales excursion. David Clapp wrote a wonderful trip report and sent in some amazing photos. Check it out below.

We will also post David's trip report with additional photos and video on our NECWA News blog at

A BIG thank you to all who participated in this annual fundraising event for NECWA. Your continued interest supports our many activities and projects that focus on the unique coastal marine wildlife off New England.

Thanks also to our guest naturalists that included Dr. John Jahoda, David Clapp and Jim Sweeney. And a big thank you to Capt. Tommy O'Reilly and the crew of the Tails of the Sea, Capt. John Boats. Capt. John Boats is a big supporter of NECWA's internship program and these all day trips. Thank you Capt. John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours!

Hope to see you for our second and final all day trip for the 2013 season scheduled for Sunday, September 8, 2013 from 10 am to 6 pm.

Best, Krill
Marine Biologist and President
New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance
Trip Report

Sooty shearwater. Photo courtesy David Clapp.
Feeding humpback whales and birds.
Photo courtesy David Clapp.
Text and Photos by
David Clapp

We had had about 12" of rain in the past three weeks. There was rain and wind predicted most of the time before and after the date of the all-day NECWA whale & bird outing which would have us out on the ocean looking for sea birds, whales, and whatever else we bumped into. The day of the trip, Sunday the 9th of 2013, was glorious. It was warm, even while at sea, and the sun shone on a reasonably flat ocean. All we needed was whales and birds.

We left Plymouth at about 8 a.m. and headed out and around Provincetown. Fortunately we had more than eight hours at sea as the whale-watch boats had been struggling all week to find marine life to show their passengers. With that in mind we were shooting for the very southern corner of the Cape; off Chatham and the Monomoys. The hope was that there would be marine life there and that, like last year and the year before, we would have another great show. By the end of the day it was as good as we could have hoped for!

Greater shearwater. Photo courtesy David Clapp.
New England Coastal Wildlife Association (under the management of Krill Carson) organizes two outings each year; all day outings that is, to allow time to find, stay with, record, and learn about the marine and pelagic creatures of our ocean. All day is a long time on a boat. All day is a long time to stand or sit on hard seats. All day only works if the seas are calm and the weather bright, and the whales and birds are abundant. Otherwise all day seems like all week.

Sooty shearwater. Photo courtesy David Clapp.
We talked about the birds and management of Long Beach (Plymouth Beach) and Duxbury Beach as we exited Plymouth Harbor passing Plymouth Rock, Bug Light, Clark's Island, and the Gurnet. Both beaches (Duxbury and Plymouth) are town-managed for Piping Plover and both are well managed. This seems to be a good year for beach goers as well, because very few nests were impacted by the full moon tides in May. This means the eggs will hatch early and the birds will fledge early. This allows for increased human activity on the beaches.

Greater Shearwater. Photo courtesy David Clapp.
Tammy Silva talked about the history and current demographics of the area. The NECWA staff was well represented with Krill, Tammy, Tiffany Davenport, and Michael O'Neill were all informative and helpful. There were fewer than 100 travelers this trip so the NECWA people had time to chat with just about everyone. Over the course of the trip, Krill and Dr. John Jahoda, BSU, were leading the NECWA team from the flybridge. In addition there were several good birders on board; Jim Sweeney, Vin Zollo, Blair Nikula, Peter Flood, and David Clapp. This was a formidable base to work from - all we needed was oceanic wildlife.

We swung south past Race Point Light and on down past Truro. The water tank near the National Park Service headquarters slipped by as did Lecount's and Cahoon Hollows. As we passed through scads of tuna boats we saw very little; there was an an occasional Common Loon and a few distant Northern Gannets and Sooty Shearwaters. There was a Harbor Porpoise spotted briefly; but we were moving on looking for bigger game. As we slid from Orleans' waters to Chatham's we heard on the radio that fishermen about eight miles ahead had whales; lots of whales. We were hard on the scent now.

Humpback whale surface feeding. Photo courtesy David Clapp.
We were now about 15 miles off the coast of Chatham. We had had whales and birds here last June near a place called Crab Ledge. As we entered these waters we were again surrounded by tuna boats; hopeful fishermen with a day to kill. We started to see whales; feeding whales. There was one group of four and then another of five and another of four. The bubble nets rose from the sea and the open jaws of the humpbacks rose from the gray effervescent water. We had too many whales, we were never talking about the same animals; they were simply everywhere. We stayed with a group for a while and then moved on to another group.

Photo courtesy David Clapp.
At one point we were with a group of nine whales that feed continually. They would dive at the same time and release bubbles under the water. The bubbles would appear; first as a delicate circle looking all the world like a tiny rain storm was passing and then there would be streams of bubbles that turned the sea gray. From the edge of this bubble fountain emerged the open mouths of the whales like a large tulip slowly emerging from the sea. There would be four, five, or six whales in each array with a calf or two hanging around the edges waiting for mom to feed and process the food stuffs into the rich fatty milk the youngsters depend on.

This was a magnificent show.

Humpback whale. Photo courtesy David Clapp.
We saw at least 50 Humpback Whales, maybe 60, of which the whale folks were able to identify (and point out by name) 26 of them. Here are the names of the individuals that the NECWA team was able to identify so far: Aswan, Buzzard, Springboard, Thicket, Putter, Pleats, Jabiru, Canopy, Apex and calf, Pogo and calf, Sanchal, Mystery, Reflection, Zepplin, Entropy, Samara, Bolide, Midnight, Rocker, Polaris, Centipede, Camara, Hangman, Underline, and Salt.

We simply didn't have time to go look at each group of humpback whales. There were Minke Whales as well; about 30 of them and a few Fin Whales. The Harbor Porpoise, Gray Seal, and Harbor Seal rounded out the marine mammal list.

The birds were amazing as well. There were about 1500 Sooty Shearwaters, 35 Great Shearwaters, and about 8 Manx Shearwaters. There were almost as many gulls with Herring at about 500, Great Black-backed at 150, and Laughing Gull close to 600. A few hundred Common Terns (from the colony at the end of Long Beach in Plymouth most likely, with a few Roseate Terns and a single Black Tern as well. The goose-sized Northern Gannet was represented by about 35 (mostly) juvenile birds. The adults are already nesting in the Canadian Maritimes. The bird surprise was that there were only about 8 Wilson's Storm-Petrels out there. These smallish birds are usually here in large numbers by now; they fly up from nest sites on the Antarctic mainland. Lastly, we had four jaegers; one Pomarine and one Parasitic for sure and the other two were not identified to species.

There creatures were grand and the day was wonderful but let's give credit where it really goes; to the planktonic stuff of our ocean. The phytoplankton and the zooplankton are what feeds the Sand Launce and the birds and whales feed on Sand Launce (or sand eel or sand lance). There were tens of millions of the pencil-sized fish wriggling through the sea out there. Each one is tiny, but like a

Sand lance. Photo courtesy David Clapp.
meal of macaroni, sooner or later you are filled up. The surface of the sea was alive with fishes, the whales spilled water overflowing with fish from their baleen-lined jaws, and the birds fed at the whales mouth or from the sea itself. This sort of profusion is why birds and mammals and fish all migrate to the Gulf of Maine, to our coast, at this time of year. It is Fat City out there - and we enjoyed it!

David Clapp
To view video taken during this trip, click on the links below.

Video from this all day excursion.
2013 06 09 SAWT TOTS

2013 06 09 SAWT video2

Video taken during this all day marine wildlife cruise. Enjoy!

Check out the newly revised NEBShark website where you can input your live sightings of basking sharks and ocean sunfish. Thanks again to Rathary for a job well done! We have more work to do on this site, but what is currently posted is amazing!

Check it out at 
Thoughts from Krill

As I dream about yesterday's sightings, I realize how blessed we were to have such amazing looks at so many different types of marine wildlife. It was a once in a lifetime experience for many of us on board the boat, even those of us who work offshore on a regular basis. The beauty of the animals and of the experience took my breath away as it does many times.

I invite you to join me and the other members of NECWA as we work together to protect our oceans and the incredible marine wildlife that call it home. Please recycle, reduce and reuse whenever possible. These three R's are not always convenient, but they help create a healthier environment and planet.

And continue to write those letters, make those phone calls, and join those organizations that fight for healthy and productive marine ecosystems. Remember that big and small acts are equally important, whether you are making a donation in support of your favorite cause, participating in a beach cleanup or volunteering for a community event. Lets work together to make a difference while there is still time. We were blessed yesterday with amazing sightings. I would hate for those experiences to fade away. 

Dreaming of whales and seabirds, Krill

Also check out text and photos on Myer Bornstein's amazing blog at