Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Whale of a Tail

I went out on my second whale watch this year. It was a good day to be out on the ocean. Each trip I that I've been out on has been completely different. Sometimes the whales are doing a lot of surface behaviors, sometimes they are just logging about. This trip was made special by the amount of time we got to spend with Salt.

Salt is a special whale in the conservation circles because she is first whale named. Back in the ‘70s, it was hypothesized that the whales could be identified by their fluke (tail) patterns. Salt was the first in the program. Pepper was the second. Now there are thousands of humpback whales that have been cataloged.

We feel that Salt was born in the early 60s which makes her somewhere between 45 and 50 years old. We do no know how long humpbacks live and really won’t until we observe the entire life spans of several whales.

Salt has an almost complete white underside of her fluke. The tail pattern, scars and other marks have been logged along with all the other whales identified and this information is share so that she can be identified where ever she goes in the world.

She also has a very distinctive dive. She does an arch lifts her fluke and very gracefully goes under.

We caught several dives by Salt that afternoon. You can see how gracefully she goes under in this set of photos.

On the voyage we were lucky to see a fin whale. These are large, very fast whales that do now stay on the surface as long as humpbacks. This is the first time that I’ve seen one and unfortunately, but the time I got my camera to my nose, it was gone. They swim very fast and do not stay in the same spot as the humpbacks do.

We were also treated to some minke whale sightings. Minke whales are smaller and very agile. They will come up and surface a couple of times and then go about their business. These whales are being hunted by Japanese factory ships under a loop hole in the treaties that allows their meat to be sold if they are harvested for research. Well, I’m happy to say that we do not feel that it is necessary to kill the whales we study on Stellwagon Bank. Ya, we don’t bring harpoons, we bring out lubbers, tourists, naturalists and the occasional oddball photoblogger.

The humpbacks in the area are used to the whale boats. It should be noted that there are several whale watching centers in the area from Boston, Newburyport, Gloucester, Cape Cod and I’m sure other locations. The boats cooperate with each other and do not mob onto the whales. Often the boats will spend time with one or two whales and swap off with the whales that another boat is watching.

The whale watching will go into October here in Gloucester. On the right, I have links to Visiting Cape Ann. You can search that site for local whale watching companies. They all do a great job and carry a naturalist on board. This is one of my favorites, Jay.

Be sure to check out my other whale posts where you will see fin slapping, tail slapping, feeding and jumping activites!

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İlhami Uyar said...

This activitie must be very dangereous and exciting,thank you for nice sharing,best wishes.

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

Looks like you were having a whale of a time Steve. :) Fantastic footage.

Frank said...

Awesome Steve; great pics. The next time I go on a whale watch I'm going with you. You seem to have the best weather. Eveytime I've been its been rough and cold and people getting sick. Hope to see you soon....FRANK

eileeninmd said...

Awesome shots of the whales. I have been a few times and would love to go again. They are just amazing sight to see.

Richard said...

Great set of pictures. Bet you filled up your camera. You gave the age of Salt but how big is she?

Roy said...

What an amazing sight to see Steve. Thanks for showing us.

Chris said...

Hi Steve,
I know what is the feeling as I went on a cruise in 2007 to count them. These animals are awesome and not afraid at all of boat! You got superb set of pictures of them and I guess your memory is full of incredible pictures too! Superb!

Jenny said...

I loved watching the actions shots the way you set them up. What an amazing experience. The only whales I've seen so far are Grey Whales off California and they really didn't 'do' much. These look amazing trips. Thanks Steve!

Steve B said...

Hi İlhami Uyar, actually, it is very safe. The whales are not aggressive at all and are used to the whale watch boats.

Hi Joan, yes a good time was had by all.

Hi Frank, LOL, I actually prefer going out in a bit of a swell...not too much of a swell, mid you, 4’ seas are good enough.

Hi eileeninmd, You can't get too much of a good thing.

Sorry Richard, I was planning on slipping that in and forgot! Salt is about 65’, 2/3rds the length of the boat I was on.

Hi Chris, I’m getting a little more disciplined in pushing the shutter and managed to keep it below 150 frames. I do overshoot because the boat is usually rocking and pitching.

Hi Roy, yes they are magnificent. How can one not share the photos?

Steve B said...

Hi Jenny, I've looked for whales of the California Coast from area where "they can be seen" but never took a real whale trip. I have seen porpoise in the surf on the west coast, but not on the east coast.

TonyC said...

Superb steve!! I felt like I was in there with you!! I had a look at your other whale posts too. Humpbacks look to be great fun to be around.

luvmyboys said...

I've never seen whales in the wild and want to thank you for sharing your fantastic photos of these magnificent creatures. The ones where the whale's face is right near the boat brought tears to my eyes.

Kelly said...

Awesome post!!! I loved the photos and the information. I like how you pieced the photos together into a video. Must be an incredible sight...

Tammie Lee said...

There is something so wonderful about these large beings. Thank you for sharing their grace.... I came for scenic Sunday but your critters drew me in.

Eve said...

This was so great Steve. I got to go years ago off Provincetown with my two eldest children when they were young. It was thrilling. We saw the humpback and the fin as well. I love your shots, and the humpback "smiling" at the camera is GREAT!!

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