Mystery of the Marine Mammal

Humpback Whale- dorsal fin

This week I went on a whale watch with a friend in celebration of her 30th year on this planet.  What better way to celebrate than to go out and enjoy what the planet has to offer.  A beautiful day on the ocean with calm water and the chance to see some of the largest animals in the world.  Our naturalist for the day had almost promised us to see whales even if our trip would take a little longer than usual.  We set off from Gloucester, MA and headed out into the Gulf of Maine in search of up to five species of whales.  Once we reached the area where whales had been seen that day, it didn’t take long before we spotted our first… and second.  Almost simultaneously a mother and calf surfaced for a breath.

Humpback Whales- surfacing Mom and baby

Humpback whales spend their summers in the cold New England waters eating lots of fish, according to our naturalist they consume about 1 million calories a day.  In the fall they migrate to the breeding and nesting grounds in the Caribbean.  While down south they don’t feed so by the time they swim back to our area they are pretty hungry!

Humpback Whale

Humpback whales are identified by the patterning on the ventral side of their fluke… aka. the bottom of their tail.  Our naturalist informed us that they are catalogued, kind of like a museum specimen but they are also given a name that is not gender specific and has something to do with their tail pattern. 

Humpback whale

Humpback whale

Humpback whale

Humpback whales get large colonies of barnacles growing on their bodies while feeding in the cool New England waters.  The barnacles can’t survive in the warm waters where the whales spend the winter and die off.  The barnacles can weigh as much as 2000 pounds on a single whale and some evidence now suggests that the whales are irritated by their presence.  Coronula diadema is the species of barnacle that is found on humpback whales.

barnacles on a humpback whale

We did have a chance to see brief glimpses of one other species of whale, the Minke Whale.  Minke whales are quite common however they spend so little time at the surface that it’s difficult to get good looks.  We saw two of these whales with only a few seconds to view either.  Minke whales kind of look like a large dolphin and suface only for a quick breath before heading back down to continue feeding.  The shape of the dorsal fin on this whale and it’s size are an easy way to identify it. 

Minke Whale

Minke Whale- notice the dorsal fin shape

All in all it was a great trip.  In total we saw about 10 humpback whales and 2 minke whales during the whole trip.  Instead of the 3.5 to 4 hours it was advertised as, we spent about 6 hours on the water but got to see our whales!  I did also do some birding…. you can check those out here

Sunset on our way back into Gloucester


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