Whale Watcher Sightings April 25-30, 2013
Thursday, May 2 2013 07:15 PM | basking shark, Cape Cod, finback whales, harbor porpoise, humpback whales, North Atlantic right whale, right whales, sei whale, sharks, whale, whale watch, whale watchers, whale watching
We have had some incredible action on the few whale watch trips we have run in the past week. Humpback, finback and minke whales have all been seen. North Atlantic right whales have been observed daily. A few rarities including, sei whale, harbor porpoise, and basking shark, were also encountered Seabirds have been great as well. Thursday, April 25th was a record breaker as we had FIVE species of baleen whale in one trip!
Cape Cod Bay has been host to great numbers of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales of which there are fewer than 500 in existence. Though federal law mandates a minimum distance of ¼ mile from right whales, we have had some great encounters with these massive animals. On the 27th we had five right whales high skim feeding in echelon (nose to tail) formation. On the 28thwe had a right whale breach 3 times within ½ mile of the Whale Watcher. On the 30th right whales where seen lob-tailing in the distance on two separate occasions.
Humpback whales have been seen on every trip this past week. A trio of humpbacks, have been feeding heavily on alewife or another fast moving baitfish species, and have been seen lunging to the surface following fast paced feeding efforts. Individuals identified have included: Measles, Evolution, and Nile. On every trip they have provided whale watchers with their trademark tail shots and great looks!
Minke and finback whales were also regularly seen. Though the two appear similar in the plates of a field guide, the 20+ foot minke whales, the smallest baleen whale species in our area, are dwarfed in the field by their larger cousins, the finback whales. Finback whales can be the size of two school buses parked end to end! One individual, a finback whale named Loon was again seen feeding in the northern portion of Cape Cod Bay.
|Two North Atlantic right whales high skim feed in Cape Cod Bay. |
Four whales are in the frame; one right foreground and
another in distance right. Note "funny water".
|Humpback whales Measels and Nile head down for|
another feeding effort!
On Thursday, April 25th, we had a sei whale feeding in the vicinity of some right whales. The third longest finner whale, and very similar to a finback, they can be identified in the field by a dark right jaw line and by the simultaneous, and diagnostic appearance of both the blowholes, and the dorsal fin when the whale is surfacing to breathe. Sei whales are always a rare sighting and often offer only fleeting glimpses. This individual however, was busy skim feeding on plankton for over a half hour providing excellent looks for all whale watchers on board! Sadly, this animal also had a distinct scar on his right flank, likely from a vessel collision.
Harbor porpoise have been seen on almost every recent trip. The high numbers of individuals and groups surprised the crew. The smallest toothed whale in the Atlantic, they are most often seen in small groups and are difficult to spot in choppy seas as they rarely measure over 5 feet in length. We believe that the calm sea conditions we have enjoyed this past week have allowed us to spot many more than we would have in bigger seas, and this leads us to hypothesize that they may be more common in spring than we previously thought; with windy spring conditions often leaving them undetected.
On Sunday, April 28th we had an enormous basking shark in the middle of Cape Cod Bay. An tall, ominous dorsal fin was sighted on our return trip. Likely close to 30 feet, this harmless plankton eater was swimming at the surface. After a few minutes of watching the shark swim along, it opened its huge mouth, and began to feed. Whale watchers could see the gill slits flare as the baleen-like gill rakers combed its food from the water column.
Seabirds observed: common, and red-throated loon, double-crested cormorant, razorbill, thick-billed murre, northern gannet, oldsquaw, bufflehead, common eider, surf, black, and white winged scoters, red-breasted merganser, red, and red-necked phalarope (with more, apparent, associative feeding near right whales), parasitic jaeger, herring, greater black-backed. ring-billed, and Bonaparte's gull, black-legged kittiwake.
|A sei whale feeds alongside the Whale Watcher. |
Note white scar on right flank.
|Harbor porpoise are the smallest whales in our waters. This adult is|
only four or five feet in length.
|A HUGE basking shark filter feeding just below the surface shows the|
white interior of its open mouth!
|Lots of razorbills lingered into this past week to the|
delight of bird watchers!