Wednesday, September 16, 2015

09.16.15 10am Whale Watch Expedition 065

Good Day Baleen Balladeers,

Our Wednesday wandering of southern Stellwagen Bank was a bewildering blitzkrieg of baleen, bird, and blow!  Our 10am voyage with Captain Bill aboard the Cetacea began with two sightings of humpback whales breaching in synchrony a mile apart, but these oceanic outbreaks ceased upon close approach.  The first of these two associations included Ebony and an accomplice who opted not to fluke when diving in six minute intervals.  The breaching and flipper slapping seen earlier was only to live on in memory, prompting Bill to head east for more active fauna.

Ebony's fluke pattern of black.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Those on the Cetacea were in happy agreement with the captain as we encountered the tenacious association of Belly, Canopy, and Pele!  The trio surfaced amidst mighty clouds of bubbles, proudly thrusting their rostrums out of the sea while water permeated through their plates of baleen.  Their feeding formula was echoed by an approaching association of humpback whales Hancock, Apex, and Azrael.  

Rostrum's at the surface.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Belly.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Canopy.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist 

Pele.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Hancock.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Apex.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Azrael.  Rich Dolan, BHc naturalist

Unidentified whale.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Amidst this briny banquet were two humpback whales that would roll and dive amidst the hunters, only to rest periodically at the surface.  These were discovered to be the calves of Apex and Hancock, dwarfed by their older counterparts who bore fresh rostrum scarring from subsurface hunts.  During their siesta the miniature mysticetes were passed by an enigmatic basking shark, another filter feeder from the kingdom of the deep!  We opted not to follow the serpentine poise of the super-fish, as our senses were fully arrested by the cetacean squall.  

Hancock 2015 Calf.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Apex 2015 Calf.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Oceanic Sunfish.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Our terrestrial obligations prompted the return of the Cetacea toward land, but not before our craft penetrated an avian tempest of shearwaters and terns.  During our exploits a shearwater miscalculated an oceanic landing, giving passengers on the bow a rare close look at its plumage and handsome beak!  Captain Bill rewarded the heroism of our observers with a brief glimpse of an ocean sunfish as it swam artfully around our boat wash.  During our return we observed a beach ball standing sentry on the seas, mocking the uniformity of the calm blue swell with flamboyant geometry. 

Shearwater stepping away.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Lone beach ball.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Yesterday marked my final adventure with NEAQ intern Cassie, with whom I have had many a merry whale watch.  May Stellwagen Bank touch the hearts of all who visit this alien frontier!

Peace and Love,


Saturday, September 12, 2015

09.12.15 12pm Whale Watch Expedition 064

Good Day Pelagic Pioneers,

Yesterday we rode with Captain Deb aboard the Asteria across the Southwest Corner in search of Atlantic inhabitants.  Our first two brief observations were of Oceanic Sunfish that were quick to return to the depths, but the infinite visibility across the sea revealed a horizon swathed by the coveted cetacean blow.  Our first humpback whale association was of Pele and A-Plus who cast their fluke patterns high in deep dives of foraging intent.  Deb steadied the Asteria so that everyone could aid in counting the tubercles on the whales' heads, but our gallery was soon directed towards an association of Lutris and an unidentified T3 who emitted thunderous blows upon diving to feed.

Our focus was soon redirected to a third group of whales headlined by Manhattan and her 2015 calf, two humpbacks never before witnessed by these eyes.  Our NEAQ intern, Alex, proved instrumental in identifying the fluke pattern of this mammoth mother.  

Manhattan's fluke pattern.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

The duo was trailed by a third humpback named affectionately as "Chunk" for a previous orca predation had left its dorsal fin bedecked in dentition scars and a crescent-shaped laceration.  This trinity of megafauna dove under our vessel to grant our excursionists close observations on all decks, but we made for a fourth array of humpback whales just a mile away.  

"Chunk" bears an incomplete dorsal fin.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

The unusual fluke pattern of "Chunk".  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Scarring along the leading fluke edge and tailstock suggest entanglement.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

We were elated to encounter an association Pitcher and Perseid, two familiar whales whose prodigious flukes cloaked our bow riders in cetacean shadow. Our final looks were postponed when Komodo and an unknown T3 joined to produce a quartet of whales diving in near synchrony!  Upon surfacing they swam in a tight foxtrot of claustrophobic cadence, nearly stacking over one another in a rorqual rotary!

Komodo's rostrum pierces the surface while its wielder swims amongst a whale waltz.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

The solace of returning to a land devoid of whales is found through sharing the spoils of these adventures, and I hope for you to join us before the season is concluded!

Peace and Love,


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

09.09.15 10am Whale Watch Expedition 063

Good Evening Humpback Heralds,

Today we explored the Southwest Corner for a 10am expedition with Captain Deb aboard the Asteria.  Prior to our arrival upon the bank we were surrounded by a pod of Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins!  Among these odonticetes we sighted some juveniles and calves, traveling with the adults at about 10 knots in an exodus of perhaps 200 individuals!  This is one of a handful of dolphin encounters I have had in my last two seasons on Stellwagen Bank and the excitement spread across decks like a contagion.

Dolphins in the distance.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Juvenile with adult.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

We continued east and encountered a breaching humpback amongst a nearly incalculable quantity of such species!  While encircled by the cetacean congregation we had an intimate encounter with Pitcher and Nile as they traveled in associated synchrony, while A-Plus accompanied an unknown T-1 seen frequently over the last several whale watches.  Gladiator fluked far off our starboard, while an unidentified humpback cast many a bubblecloud that nearly trapped a traveling minke whale.  Lutris ventured close enough to discharge a blow unto victims on our bow, and promptly dove to subsurface feed amongst the many hungry mysticetes.

Cetacean breathe from Pitcher.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Pitcher diving with Nile.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Today was an exemplary experience for those who had never before visited “Whale Country” and I myself could not mask my awe and admiration.

Peace and Love,


Monday, September 7, 2015

09.07.15 11am & 3pm Whale Watch Expeditions 061 & 062

Good Afternoon Mysticete Maestros,

Yesterday at 11am we joined Captain Chip aboard the Aurora for the southern promenade of Stellwagen Bank, a celebrated feeding ground of the migratory humpback whale.  Our summer NEAQ intern, Cassie, aided in spotting an association of three humpbacks amongst five neighboring cetacean sightings.  One white fluke pattern belonged to an unknown humpback seen the previous evening, and we later identified the other associates as Komodo and Twinkle.  Chip negotiated with active seas to regale passengers with close observations of these logging leviathans.  We soon left the trinity of slumberers, passing the NOAA vessel Auk as its occupants observed a pair of humpbacks whales.

15BH44 blowing mightily.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Our 3pm sojourn for the Southwest Corner came to a premature end three miles west of the bank, as we observed a humpback whale jouncing jovially from blustering seas.  Cassie promptly identified the whale as Nile, recognizable by her dorsal fin ornamented in white blazes and also from her cavernous tagging scar.  Nile and I have shared the seas on many occasions over the last two seasons, but never had I seen such a frenzied tempest of breaches from this monumental mysticete.  Upon diving the aeronaut would christen the surface with monstrous halos of brown defecation, signatures of massive feasts necessary to sustain this grand queen.

Nile plowing through the seas.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Rostrum of Nile.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

We surmised that Nile breached at least twelve times upon our arrival, but we also witnessed four breaches from an anonymous whale in the vicinity.  We were unaware of any interactions prior to our approach, but during our observations the unassociated whales breached within moments of each other.  The mighty glare of the sun and a distant fluke pattern evaded identification.  Our focus was admittedly on Nile, as her cycle of breaches, flipper slapping, and bowel evacuations next to our boat prompted Cassie and I into a camera duel for photographs (admittedly, her flipper photo won)!

Nile displays her ventral pleats.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Nile's enormous body.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Nile grows weary from breaching.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Nile's flippers.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Nile's enthusiastic landing.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

An upside-down rostrum.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Nile silhouetted.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Today was a righteous conclusion to our peak season on Stellwagen Bank, but I will be sure to make a few cameos in the final weeks to come!
Peace and Love,

Sunday, September 6, 2015

09.06.15 5pm Whale Watch Expedition 060

Good Morning Rorqual Readers,

Yesterday aboard the Cetacea I found myself in the jolly company of Cap'n Jim and the Cetacea company for a 5pm voyage on the Southwest Corner.  Under the tangerine glow of this September evening we located the humpback whales Nile and Pitcher in an association observed on several trips over the season.  Pitcher gave a few wild thrashes of the tail prior to a couple dives, while Nile flaunted her fluke pattern high atop a proud tailstock.  The vapor of their blows rose high in the sunset, as an orange blaze erupting from tall summits of dark onyx.  The waves rose as flames licking the burning red skies, and our vessel was alone in tending the pelagic fire.

Nile on a high fluking dive.  Rich Dolan, BH naturalist

Shearwaters hungry for a sunset meal.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Droves of Cory's shearwaters crashed haphazardly into the Atlantic surface, eager for the shoals of fish illuminating the monitor of our wheelhouse fish-finder.  Emerging from the tempest of aviary bombers was the whale Lutris, accompanied by an unfamiliar humpback with a white fluke pattern.  This association joined with the Nile and Pitcher to make a quartet, perhaps increasing their might to take advantage of fish that survived the torrent of seabirds.  I rejoiced with our passengers who were too enamored with these leviathans to be perturbed by the evening swell.

Pitcher casting a hot blow into the evening seas.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

I look forward to sharing our next expedition, and partake in the merriment of this lovely Labor Day weekend!

Peace and Love,


Saturday, September 5, 2015

09.05.15 10am & 2pm Whale Watch Expeditions 058 & 059

 Good Evening Atlantic Armada,

Saturday's exciting adventures on southern Stellwagen Bank were made reality through the collaboration of Captains Adam and Tim, two astute shellbacks with senses finely attuned to whale behavior.  Captain Adam commanded the Sanctuary for our 10am quest on the Southwest Corner, and we found ourselves in a cornucopia of feeding humpback whales amounting to 26 individuals!  Our first three sightings were of whales who yielded no fluking dives or captivating behavior, but upon encountering an association of three humpbacks we were treated to flipper slapping and rolling from the unknown runt of the group!

Unknown juvenile rolling.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Young humpback sprawling out.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist
Possible barnacle scars on rostrum.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Ventral display of gender features.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

We were soon drawn to the bubble clouds of four surface feeding humpbacks that consisted of Banyan and a juvenile who spyhopped within five feet of our starboard decks!  My attention to the calf was hewn by a surfacing adult humpback who exercised its baleen whilst under siege by deafening seagulls, a theatre not witnessed by these eyes since the second week of July!  The bold calf passed our bow close enough for a pat on the head (which we forbade in respect to the Marine Mammal Protection Act), just as our feeding whale dove amidst a sea brimming of minke whales.  

Unidentified humpback whale feeding amidst bubble cloud.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

The zenith of our trip was affirmed with a mighty breach from our larger, hungry mysticete, turning this opera into a veritable discotheque!  The surface activity was gradually subdued, but even so we identified Twinkle amongst the fluking dives from afar.  The humpback whales parted ways and the clamor of terns and seagulls was muted.  A cease fire between the whales and their prey was declared, permitting a moment of silence for the thousands of sand lance lost to the ruthless maws of the humpback whales.

The only breach of the trip beyond our bow.   Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Captain Tim took the helm for the 2pm expedition as he brought us amongst Owl and her 2015 calf and they dove in the company of a third whale, a two year old humpback born to Echo last year!  We were soon drawn to a mighty breach in the east, but the promise of theatrics was snuffed when this humpback mocked us with a lengthy dive.  The Sanctuary made for a caravan to the Southeast Corner, where many a minke whale bobbed in glassy swells.  We soon returned to the west with a sighting of the humpback whale Twinkle, as well as an anonymous mother and calf pair who were silhouetted by the setting sun.

Echo's 2014 Calf returns!  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Mother and calf in the sun.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Todays encounters were monumental in scale and emotion, made accessible to passengers and scientists by the valiant teamwork of captains and crew of the BHC fleet.  We can aspire for more righteous encounters on this Labor Day weekend!

Peace and Love,


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

09.01.15 9am Whale Watch Expedition 057

Good Day Pelagic Pilgrims,

Today on our 9am expedition we took flight for the Southwest Corner under falconer Jim, Captain of the Cetacea.  Just on the edge of Stellwagen Bank we found Jabiru in full breaching fury under the curious gaze of recreational catamaran, Cattitude.  Jabiru took pause from these eruptions, and her 2015 Calf ambitiously mimicked her theatrics (photo)!  Our excitement was soon to peak as the encounter transcended from pelagic theatre to a rarely seen lesson of cetacean school.

Jabiru's 2015 Calf breaching.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Fluke of Jabiru's 2015 Calf.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

After a six minute dive Jabiru demonstrated some boisterous tail lobbing and kick feeding, and her calf approached her in spyhop position while just keeping an eye at the water’s edge (photo).  After a second six minute dive Jabiru resurfaced with flipper slapping, and after a close approach the calf echoed this behavior in complete unison (photo)!  The calf followed its mother dutifully, watching her behavior and attempting mimicry of each display! 

Jabiru flexing her flukes.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist
The signature pattern of Jabiru's flukes.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist 

Jabiru continues tail lobbing.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Jabiru's calf showing apparent curiosity of mother's lessons.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Interpreting whale behavior can result in the risk of anthropomorphizing certain displays, but the calf’s behavior was undoubtedly a contemplative response to its mothers demonstrations.  Just as a newborn whale is lifted upon its mother’s back to learn to breathe, a whale must learn the schematics and capabilities of its own body.  Cetologists believe that cultural transmission, or teaching between individuals, is evident in both humans and whales.  The possibility of sentience in animals elicits feelings of camaraderie with nature, and to witness such behavior in whales is truly an existential experience.

Mimicry between mother and calf.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Ocean sunfish, or Mola mola,  easily viewed from our port pulpit.  Rich Dolan, BHC naturalist

Peace and Love,