Wild Cape Cod Notebook: White Shark Research

Summer has now commenced in full swing here on Cape Cod and many summer visitors have arrived to enjoy all that a warm and sunny Cape Cod has to offer. Our attention has turned to supporting a research project that is being conducted in Cape Cod waters and when completed will answer the question most people ask about Atlantic white sharks. How many are out there? This work is being funded by donations of time equipment and $ from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in cooperation with the Massachusetts department of Marine Fisheries Shark Research Program led by Dr. Greg Skomal. The research is being conducted on the outer Cape operating out of our home port, Chatham and since Greg has been interested in working from a smaller boat platform to see if photographing and tagging white sharks is possible, we offered the use of ours – the 24 foot Aleutian Dream. Over the last couple of years we have made some modifications to this fishing boat to enhance our ability to follow and photograph wildlife in the ocean and with the addition of a bow pulpit the boat seemed ideally suited for the challenge to follow white sharks. And because the region’s seals are so spread out, the only truly efficacious way to find these visiting apex predators is to use a spotter plane. Veteran fish spotter pilot Wayne Davis was recruited for this purpose and after a couple of weeks we have worked most of the kinks out our process.

Please consider supporting this important work by donating  here http://www.atlanticwhiteshark.org/donate/

and BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE VIDEO BELOW!!

Shark study seals (7)

Shark study seals (2)

Shark study seals (1)

The research protocol calls for the team to be on the water at least two days a week scanning from the boat and working with the plane along the areas barrier beaches looking mainly at the grey seal haulouts for signs of shark predation attempts and any other observations. We have been blessed with some excellent conditions to work in and were rewarded on Saturday June 28 when Wayne spotted 14 – 15 foot white shark about 1/4 mile off of Nauset Beach and we were able to follow her with underwater pole cameras for nearly an hour.

Shark study seals

Shark study seals (3)

Shark study seals (6)

Read more.. Friday, July 4th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Offshore with Blues

Summer brings with it many changes to the marine environment in and around Cape Cod and surrounding islands. As the ocean currents slowly bring warmer currents from the south the water temperatures rise and some of our migrating fishes return to New England waters along with seabirds who also feast on the bounty that the ocean yields at this time of year. We have longed to hook up with shark conservation legend and filmmaker Joe Romeiro to go offshore to find and swim with Blue sharks in their natural wide open ocean hopefully in clear green and blue water. There is also a chance that a mako shark might bolt into the situation just to liven things up. To accomplish this goal we ventured to Rhode Island to Point Judith for an early departure on board with Pelagic Expeditions, an adventure shark diving operation run by Joe and Brian Raymond. These guys really know their stuff and even though we set out to find clear water in dense fog this Sunday morning – their confidence and experience paid off as we finally broke out of the fog to a sunny flat calm day in the Atlantic ocean. Humpback whales and Minke whales surfaced lazily around us and we waited while our chum slick sent out a call to the ocean scavengers that might be within a few miles of our position. We were also blessed with some close up views of the Wilson Storm Petrel another ocean voyager that makes it’s way to our waters seasonally from deep in the Southern Atlantic, some 9000 miles away. Here are a few shots that tell some of the tale of the day. In case you are wondering we had an absolute blast doing this. Check out Pelagic Expeditions in Rhode Island for more information on how to get in on this local action.

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (11)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (18)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (9)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (17)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (2)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (1)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (5)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (4)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (14)

https://www.facebook.com/PelagicExpeditions

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (15)

Wilson’s Storm Petrel gets in on the feeding

Read more.. Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

AWSC Reports Results with Gills Club

We are very proud to be supporting this worthwhile education initiative for girls to inspire future stewards of our oceans! Wonderful work by the AWSC team and many other volunteers. See testimony below. If you know of young girls who might have this interest please hook them up through the links below.

Parents See Interest in Science Increase and Grades Improve

The Gills Club Meets the National STEM Crisis Head On with Support and Encouragement for Girls’ Science Education

Shark facts - Photo by Cynthia Wigren

Orleans, MA - The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s (AWSC) signature education initiative, the Gills Club was set up with the intention of jump starting girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by connecting girls with an interest in sharks to female shark researchers and their work. Little did AWSC’s President Cynthia Wigren know that this free club, which has met a handful of times over its first six months, would have such an immediate and dramatic impact on students’ grades.

Marianne Long, AWSC Education Director, recently began receiving praise from parents that gave incredible details about the profound impact this small organization has already had on Cape Cod kids. Bob Fiske, father of West Yarmouth Middle School student Paige Fiske is one of those grateful parents. Fiske recounts how 6th grade teacher Amy Ferreira suggested that his daughter Paige join the Gills Club after she struggled to get a C during her first term at a new school. Fiske conveyed his immense pride upon reviewing Paige’s second term report card: “Membership and participation in the Gills Club empowered my daughter to transform a “C” in 6th grade science on her first term report card into an “A-” for the second term. The Gills Club expanded her knowledge and passion for all things shark, introducing her to many other young female shark enthusiasts and scientists. Paige demonstrated the courage, curiosity, confidence and commitment to improve her grade.”

Cherie Stulsky from Cotuit said, “My daughter has been more interested in other aspects of marine biology since joining the Gills Club. She also shares information about sharks with her friends and her class at school.”

Gills Club co-founder, Cynthia Wigren, said, “According to the US Department of Commerce, women represent about half of the workforce but only 24 percent of the STEM workforce. Women earn on average 33 percent more when they work in STEM. Additionally the National Math + Science initiative warns that less than 20 percent of students of either gender choose a STEM path and that the US may be short of as many as three million high-skilled workers by 2018. We are seeing what some have called a national STEM crisis, and I am thrilled that the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy can help make a difference in addressing this negative trend on a local level.”

Wigren is anticipating a fun-filled fall for the Gills Club, which offers free membership to girls of any age and has over 30 female scientists from around the world participating in the program. In addition to a monthly newsletter and Facebook group page, The Gills Club offers hands-on learning opportunities through its partnerships with the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, MA and Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL.

You can find out more information and how to join here: http://www.gillsclub.org. The Gills Club is an education initiative of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. AWSC supports scientific research, improves public safety, and promotes shark education. Find out more here: http://www.atlanticwhiteshark.org

Gills Club at the CCMNH - Photo by Cynthia Wigren

SONY DSC

Read more.. Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Monomoy’s Future at a Crossroads

Chatham from the air 1 (1)

Call to Action!

Friends, especially those who are living on Cape Cod, calling upon you to make your voices heard to appeal to the USFWS to grant a 6 month extension of time (to December 31, 2014) to allow citizens affected to thoughtfully respond to the recently released Monomoy NW Refuge Management Plan (Draft). The document is here: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Monomoy/what_we_do/conservation.html

This beautiful wild area near Chatham has been in the care of local residents and inhabitants for more than 1000 years. It has been a model of how human beings and wildlife can co-exist sustainably to the benefit of all. As a designated Wilderness area Monomoy does present an unusual opportunity for the USFWS to work creatively with our local population to explore this model together before final decisions are made. Thanks to the Cape Cod Fisherman’s Alliance and a group of local concerned citizens there are some simple things you can do to affect the request to extend the comment period.

Make several 5 minute phone calls to our Washington DC  Representatives. Here are the numbers

Congressman William Keating: 508-771-0666

Senator Elizabeth Warren: 617-565-3170

Senator Ed Markey; 617 565-8519

Talking Points for these calls-

1) I live in Chatham and have concerns with the new draft management plan for the Monomoy National Wildlife refuge.

2) This area is vital to our community for a number of reasons, including centuries-long tradition of recreational and commercial harvest of our natural resources.

3) The draft plan proposes some very serious changes to how we define and manage this area and what activities are allowed, our community needs time to understand and respond to these proposals.

4) The USFWS took many years to develop this plan and we need the 6 month extension to properly understand the draft plan implications and respond with thoughtful comments.

5) I am asking the Senator/Congressman’s help in getting a six month extension to the comment period (to December 31, 2014).

Read more.. Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Swimming with the Great Whales

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Links below to two new videos we have just posted to provide some more “color” on these experiences. One compiled from our expedition to Dominica in February 2014 followed by another compiled from footage shot during one incredible day on the Silver Bank – 80 miles north of the Dominican Republic in early March. Please check them both out below.

Sperm Whale Heaven

Sanctuary

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Spotted Dolphins off the bow. Amazing!

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Young male sperm whale checks us out with a close approach to our boat

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Estela – our fellow adventurer on the Silver Bank who inspired the vid “Sanctuary” in this post

Read more.. Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Cetaceans on the Outer Cape

The month of May is fast moving to a close and the spring migration continues to be an adventure. Launching our boat , Aleutian Dream into the water this past weekend finally enabled us to get out in the Atlantic and off shore to investigate reports of massive schools of sand eels and voraciously feeding Humpback Whales. We were joined by friend Ted Cheeseman a Conservation Biologist and whale naturalist visiting from California and scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute who were all “off duty” and keen to see some cetacean action. And action we found!

Leaving Chatham Harbor in the slate grey of a cool spring morning to calm seas we ventured south a few miles to examine the condition of the South Beach cuts of 2013 & 2014 and to assess the haulouts of Gray seals gathered along the Monomoy side of these inlets. An ocean swell from the previous days Northeast winds was causing a significant line of breakers across both inlets even at high tide. This does not bode well for navigating this short cut to Nantucket Sound for mariners this summer season. We observed seals well off the beach about a mile and in numbers suggesting that as yet the apex predator white sharks may not yet have arrived. We understand that the listening buoys are to be deployed in the next days so real data may soon be available on the presence of white sharks.

But since our target for the day was whales we quickly assessed that there were no Humpbacks feeding in the immediate Chatham Harbor area out 3 miles so we decided to head north to check out the action reported heavily in the vicinity of Race Point near Provincetown. We were rewarded for the long run up from Chatham with confirmed sightings of four different cetaceans!Stellwagen (35)

A Fin Whale feeding off of Race Point

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Common dolphins

Stellwagen (36)

Minke Whale feeding on Stellwagen

Stellwagen (47)

The spectacular behavior of Humpbacks known as Bubble netting is one of the most amazing sights to witness in natural history among whales. This is cooperative feeding among 1 – many whales working together to efficiently feed. Here are a few images we made.

Stellwagen (11)

Whale watchers look on in amazement.

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Ventesca by Tim Vorheis3

Photo by Tim Vorheis – Humpback “Ventesca” bubble netting (taken offshore about 2005)

Bubble netting as mentioned is very special to see. Thanks very much to Tuna spotter pilot and photographer Tim Vorheis who nailed this image some years ago so you can see what is happening…and this is just one whale working. A helpful article describing this feeding behavior is here.  http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/news/press/2013/pr092613.html

A few other shots of “bubble netting taken off of Chatham last November.

Humpbacks off ChathamHumpbacks off Chatham (1)Humpbacks off Chatham (2)Humpbacks off Chatham (3)

Read more.. Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Of Warblers and Whales in the Provincelands

 

Provincelands

Among the birding community there is great pleasure in tracking, spotting and identifying migrating warblers and other song birds each spring and fall as they pass through on their yearly migrations to and from the Canadian arboreal forests. Cape Cod is a target refueling stop as it is one of the very easterly most pieces of land drawing birds in when the southerly winds shift to the west thus pushing flocks of high flying birds to the east and out over the ocean. One favorite spot for the birding community on Cape Cod is found up in the Provincelands; a stand of trees known as the Beech Forest.

Recently we have made several trips up to the Provincelands (pictured above at the very northerly tip of Cape Cod mainly to try a catch a few of the warblers passing through. We found some pictured here . We also captured a few of the birds that arrive and stay on the Cape for most of the summer and into the fall and even a few of the resident birds that live here throughout most years. They all come alive in the spring.

And to make life even more interesting a mere stones throw from the Beech Forest is Race Point and one of the finest viewing points any where in the world to observe whales. We found three different species in one afternoon in early May! See at the end of this post.

Beech Forest Eastern Tohwee

Eastern Towhee (male)

Beech Forest Eastern phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Beech Forest Blackburnian warbler

Blackburnian warbler

Beech Forest Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles (2 males in a stand off around territory)

Beech Forest (16)

White Crowned Sparrow ( a migrant passing through)

Beech Forest (13)

Downy Woodpecker (likely resident) (male)

Beech Forest (12)

Northern Parula (warbler)

Beech Forest (10)

(Possible) Tree Sparrow

Beech Forest (9)

Black throated Blue warbler

Chestnut sided warbler (2)

Bay breasted warbler

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Warbler

Pine warbler

Black and white warbler

Black and white warbler

Beech Forest (4)

White breasted nuthatch

Beech Forest (8)

Northern Cardinal

Beech Forest Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Beech Forest Yellow rumped warbler

Yellow rumped warbler

Beech Forest Red bellied woodpecker

Red bellied woodpecker

Backyard birding in Chatham (4)

Indigo Bunting (rarely seen on the outer Cape but more common inland)

Yellow warbler

Beautiful singing Yellow warbler

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Snowy Egret

Snowy egret

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird (male)

Red winged Blackbird

Red winged Blackbird

Goldfinch in flight

Goldfinch in flight

Ruby throated hummingbird #2

Ruby throated hummingbird male at rest

Pair of red tailed hawks

Pair of red tailed hawks

Catbird #2

Catbird singing

Beech forest

We managed to get a scope on some whale activity at Race Point and again at the Pilgrim Heights Lookout. It is truly amazing what you can see form the beaches in the Provincelands if you just take the time to look.

Race Point

Race Point, Provincelands

Pilgrim Heights Lookout

Race Point fin whale watch

Fin whale passing Race Point

Race Point minke whale watch

Minke Whale feeding off Race Point

Race Point right whale watch (1)

Fin Whales at Race Point (Note large straight spout)

Race Point whale watch (1)

Breaching Northern Right Whale near Race Point

Race Point right whale watch

Northern Right Whale dives

Read more.. Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Spring

We have been back home on Cape Cod for three weeks  and enjoying the onset of the late maritime spring here. This is the first of two posts we will make. May has been a month to witness and follow the arrival of many species of migrants who make chance refueling stops here on the their northerly annual migration. From tiny shorebirds and song birds like the many and varied warblers to larger birds like raptors such as Broad winged hawks and Turkey Vultures. Ospreys actually nest here and are highly visible in their courtship and nesting during the spring. When wind and weather conditions are right these birds can be found in the forested areas all over the Cape. One just has to look for them. As reported in several previous posts, including last year at this time, one of Cape Cod’s most unique wild spots is the incredible Sandy Neck in Barnstable. When our good friend Jose Schmidt visited us recently from Costa Rica we took the opportunity to show him a closer look at wild Cape Cod in spring with a walk down Sandy Neck. Here are some of the highlights of the walk, which Jose calculated was more than 20 kilometers and took the full day.

Sandy neck (8)

Sandy neck (3)

Sandy Neck

 

The shorebird migration is gaining momentum with many birds touching down on Cape Cod to refuel on their way north to Arctic tundra. Some like this American Oystercatcher will stay and likely nest the barrier beaches like Sandy Neck here on Cape Cod. A beautiful sight to see and hear them return.

Oystercatcher Sandy Neck

The majestic osprey are back too nesting on the great marsh here on Sandy Neck.

Chatham in Spring (2)

Tree swallow - Sandy Neck

Tree Swallows are back and nesting in boxes long provided.

Great horned owl - Sandy Neck

Great Horned Owl under siege from a mob of American Crows but unfazed

Sandy Neck May 2014 (7)

Our good friend Jose Schmidt is visiting from Costa Rica and was keen to see the wilder parts of Cape Cod.

Dunlin Sandy Neck

Migrating Dunlin in breeding plumage

Lesser Yellowlegs - Sandy Neck (1)

Lesser yellow legs on the Great Marsh

Merlin - Sandy Neck (1)

Merlin in flight and calling

Diamondback terrapins are among the most variable turtle species in North America and no two individuals are exactly alike in coloration and pattern. The feet are strongly webbed; the hind feet are especially large and flat. These large webbed feet and muscular legs enable terrapins to be strong swimmers, an ability needed when living in an environment with daily tidal changes and strong currents. Mating takes place in the early spring, with nesting extending through mid-summer. Females lay two to three clutches of eggs annually. Clutch size ranges from four to 23 eggs, and varies throughout the terrapin’s range. This little fella might be just hours old! We found him walking own the path looking to get to salt water where we ended up placing him not far away.

Terrapin - Sandy NeckTerrapin - Sandy Neck (1)

Terrapin - Sandy Neck (3)

Backyard birding (3) copy

Hunting Red Tailed Hawk

Otter tracks Sandy Neck

River Otter Tracks

Pine warbler Sandy Neck

Pine Warbler in the forest

Sandy Neck (2)

We noted the Eastern coyote tracks or “coywolf” that some naturalist have come to refer to the coyotes in our area. This track was placed on top of our own tracks from earlier in the day indicating that the coyotes were very close by as we passed but we did not see them. The critters are about the size of a German Shepard dog and weigh 50 – 60 lbs. Very successful scavengers. See below image taken at a different time and place (Chatham) so you can see them.

coyote

Sandy neck (2)Sandy neck

A beautiful female Merlin was hunting as we trekked by the scrub pines.

Sandy neck (7)

After 10 hours and more than 20 kilometers we finally reached the last resting spot …a rock which I had pointed out at the beginning of the hike. A beautiful day in wild Cape Cod. Love the spring here!

Sandy Neck May 2014 (13)

Read more.. Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Through the Looking Glass: Addendum

Spring is now in full bloom in the Pacific Northwest. It is beautiful but our time here is drawing to a close. We have  witnessed the miracle of the births of two beautiful grandchildren and experienced the joy of knowing that our own children have adapted to their new roles as parents remarkably well. There might not be a greater joy for a parent.

There has been time for a few noteworthy family adventures to commemorate the births. One very special gathering happened with Pam’s family where we recorded four generations of the Smith Family all on one couch. Ranging in ages from 86 years to 17 days!

KubotaKubota gardens

JJK&PSK with BabiespK & KarinaPops & AJ#2JJK & Babies #4Mi& VAsilMia & Vasil with AjSpencer & Karina

Moon & Karina

Moon & Karina

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Spencer & Karina (photo by Tony Grue)

Great grandparents

Gene & Sharon with Family

Four Generations of Smiths! – Gene & Sharon Smith with Children Gordon, Pam with spouse John, & Jim; Grandchildren Spencer & Mia with spouses Moon & Vasil and great grandchildren Angel Joseph & Karina Dolly

AJ's first M's GAme

Mariners Win! Aj is batting 1.000

AJ's first game

AJ’s first Major League baseball game with Dr. Joe, Uncle Charlie, Pops John, Uncle Spencer, Momma Mia and Pami!

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King Babies#2

Cousins AJ and Karina sharing first impressions of the World

We managed to stop by and visit with our old friend Rick Kirsten, owner of the Kirsten Galleries in Seattle. His late father Richard Kirsten-Daiensai had passed on since our last visit and we were treated to a look at the beautiful memorial wall of photos and tributes posted in the gallery in Daiensai’s honor. We own and treasure a couple of Daiensai’s amazing paintings and thought of one in particular as we thought of all that has happened in the past year. This painting waits for us when we return home to Chatham.

ONLY YOUR HEARTBEAT/ IS BETWEEN YOU /AND ALL OF YOUR ANCESTORS by Richard Kirsten Daiensai

Heartbeat

Many Blessings and much to be thankful for. We love the springtime!

 

Read more.. Monday, April 28th, 2014

Pacific Northwest Signs of Spring

Our time in the Pacific Northwest has been heavy with family and the brand new babies as our previous posts will attest. However we have managed an outing with our old friend and fellow birder Paula Johnson who lives in the area. Paula was kind enough to guide us to a couple of birding hotspots in the region one day this past week. They are the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in southern Washington near the Columbia River and also the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia.

We got on the road long before dawn, were blessed with some decent spring weather (read no rain) and were rewarded with some excellent sightings of the areas wildlife feeling the urgings of spring.

Nisqually

Nisqually NWR

Nisqually 2

Bald Eagle

 

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Tree Swallows were in abundance on their way north to breed

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Nisqually NWR

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A pair of river otters frolic

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A Pair of Cinnamon Teals

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Newly fledged Bald Eagle watching

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Hooded Merganser pair

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Hooded Merganser pair

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A family of raccoons

Dowitchers yellowlegs

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A pair of Wood Ducks

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A Yellow -rumped warbler migrant just showing up at NIsqually NWR on its way north

Blog Bird PNW2

Cinnamon Teal Drake preening

Blog Bird PNW1

Red winged Blackbird displaying his colors proudly hoping to attract a mate

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A pair of Northern Shovelers

Blog Bird PNW5

Read more.. Saturday, April 19th, 2014