[CT Birds] Trip and sighting report from Seabird & Whale Tales excursion
krillcarson at mac.com
Sat Jun 20 13:11:36 EDT 2009
Thanks to Wayne for writing up this sighting report from our recent
all day marine excursion.
Best, Carol "Krill" Carson
krillcarson at mac.com
NECWA Seabird and Whale Tales Trip – June 14, 2009
Trip Report from Wayne Petersen
Once again an intrepid group of seafaring naturalists set forth on
the Tails of the Sea (a vessel owned and operated by Captain John
Boats) out of Plymouth for an all-day investigation of Stellwagen
Bank and the waters east of Provincetown and Truro off the tip of
Cape Cod. Despite showery conditions during much of the morning,
decent observation conditions were still possible. Leaving Plymouth
harbor, participants learned something about the large Common Tern
colony located on the tip of Plymouth Beach, as well as the steady
increase of a fairly recently established Laughing Gull colony
there. The Laughing Gulls, while nesting at only one other locality
in Massachusetts, pose something of a disruption to the nesting terns
in that they are inclined to steal food from the hard-working terns
once they start bringing fish back to the colony to feed to their
young. In addition to the terns and Laughing Gulls, 5 lingering
Brant were present along the edge of the beach. This Arctic nesting
goose, although common enough in winter in Plymouth Harbor, typically
has headed north by the end of May.
The trip across Cape Cod Bay was relatively uneventful until we
reached the southern end of Stellwagen Bank, where 75 or more fishing
boats were in quest of Bluefin Tuna. These giant fish (potentially
able to reach up to 1500 lbs.) are seldom as large as they were 20-30
years ago before over harvest reduced their population, yet they
continue to bring a pretty penny at the dock. In a withering economy
the effort to catch one is still worthwhile!
As the Tails of the Sea neared Stellwagen Bank, increasing numbers of
small, black-and-white Wilson’s Storm-Petrels began to be seen
skimming the water in their endless quest for plankton. Unable to
dive beneath the surface, these tiny seabirds travel all the way from
Antarctic nesting areas to feed on the plankton-rich surface waters
of the Gulf of Maine during the austral winter. Some feel that
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel could be one of the most abundant birds in the
world – an irony, given that most people will likely never even see one.
By noontime the numbers of birds began to increase and whale
sightings went from distant to intimate. Humpback Whales were the
lead performers, and no fewer than 24 individuals were sighted and
identified. Among them were four mothers with new calves, which is
always an encouraging sign for this endangered species. Thanks to
the trained and watchful eyes of Joanne, Jenn, Krill and their
assistants, most of the Humpback Whales that were sighted were
identified by their distinctive tail fluke and flipper patterns. In
addition to recognizing known individuals and learning something of
their genealogy, a number of unique behaviors were observed at close
range, especially the whales’ unique use of bubbles to corral fish,
and their spectacular breaching behavior that literally lifts their
massive bodies clear of the water; no one still knows for certain why
they do this.
A special whale sighting was of a mother named Vertex who was
traveling with her young calf. This winter Vertex was satellite
tagged to help scientists better understand the migration routes of
large baleen whales. Krill was able to get photographs of the
satellite implant site on the left side of the dorsal fin and these
images were sent to researchers in an attempt to help them assess why
the tag failed and to track the healing of the wound. As we watched
this mother and calf, the calf started spinning head breaching and
flipper slapping all to the delight of our passengers onboard.
Along with Humpback Whales, several nice views of giant Fin Whales
were obtained, and at least one Minke Whale was briefly spotted.
Besides the cetaceans, two Gray Seals were seen off the tip of the
Cape, almost certainly from the huge colony located at South Monomoy
NWR off Chatham.
With an interest in all things marine, our group took particular
interest in the sight of two enormous Basking Sharks filtering
plankton at the surface, much in the same way as the rare Atlantic
Right Whale on a much grander scale. Instead of using baleen like
whales, however, Basking Sharks rely on their gill rakers to strain
plankton from the surface waters. Along with Whale Sharks, Basking
Sharks are among the largest fish in the sea.
And speaking of plankton, a plankton tow late in the afternoon
produced a jar full of gelatinous comb jellies, or Ctenophores, that
keyed out to be a common species called Sea Gooseberry
(Pleurobranchia pileus). The same sample yielded thousands of
copepods – a tiny crustacean that is the staff of life for many of
the larger organisms occurring on Stellwagen Bank, including fish,
seabirds, and whales. Krill encouraged passengers to report
sightings of basking sharks and ocean sunfish to NEBShark (the New
England Basking Shark Project) in an effort to help scientists learn
more about these amazing coastal pelagic fish. NEBShark
(www.nebshark.org) is a project supported by NECWA so some of the
proceeds from this all day trip will be directed towards this project.
Among the hundreds of seabirds concentrated off the inshore rips from
Provincetown to Truro our sharp-eyed birders were able to pick out
Sooty, Greater, and Manx shearwaters, a single Northern Fulmar, and
both Pomarine and Parasitic jaegers as they harried feeding terns for
their hard-gotten food. Notable by the date was a late-lingering
Iceland Gull and a Black-legged Kittiwake, both species that are
normally only found in these waters during the winter.
On the return voyage to Plymouth, passengers were treated to one of
Krill’s famous raffles during which practically everyone is
guaranteed to receive a special prize from the plethora of raffle
offerings available. Along with fresh fish chowder, it doesn’t get
much better! Thanks again to Krill Carson and her colleagues for
organizing another wonderful marine experience for all involved.
We hope to see you in the fall on the Sunday, September 13th cruise!
Go to www.necwa.org to learn more about the fall trip.
CHECKLIST OF BIRD HIGHLIGHTS (not inclusive):
Brant – a group of five lingering individuals off Plymouth Beach
Common Loon – three summering birds seen offshore
Northern Fulmar – one light morph individual
Greater Shearwater – 500
Sooty Shearwater – 75
Manx Shearwater – 2
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – 1100+
Northern Gannet – 300 (only one fully adult individual)
Pomarine Jaeger – 1
Parasitic Jaeger – 3
Unidentified jaegers – 4
Iceland Gull – 1very late immature
Black-legged Kittiwake – 1 immature
Humpback Whale – 24+ (including 4 mothers with calves)
Identified humpbacks include: Anvil and calf, Belly, Cardhu, Dome,
Elephant, Lightshow, Milkweed, Music, Sloop, Scylla’s 2008 calf, Soft-
serve, Vertex and calf, Whisk, Zeppelin and calf,
Fin Whale – 2
Minke Whale – 1
Gray Seal – 2
INVERTEBRATES from the plankton tow: A BIG thanks to Karsten on the IDs!
Ctenphores Sea Gooseberry (Pleurobranchia pileus)
Fish larvae: 1 Northern Pipefish (Syngnathus fuscus) and 1 larval cod-
relative (5 mm) which was probably a hake.
Mysids (Mysidae) shimp-like crustaceans
Bulk of sample were copepods (hundreds if not thousands) but not
identified to genus or species
More information about the CTBirds