Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Chasing the Last Dragons

White Shark Chex off N Chatham Inlet

A large male tagged earlier in the season is called Chex (nicknamed Darth Vader by the DMF Team). He is riddled with battle scars indicating that he is likely the dominant male white shark in the Chatham/Orleans habitat this summer season. The tag is visible in this image behind the dorsal fin.

Read a recent article in National Geographic Traveler about cage diving with white sharks in the Neptune Islands in South Australia. Local eco-tour operator Andrew Fox describes the experience his guests enjoy as “Chasing the Earth’s Last Dragons”. The phrase resonated with my own feelings of awe for these ocean voyagers.

Experienced naturalists and field biologists are a joy to be with. They can truly ignite a moment in the field with insight into animal behavior by orienting field companions to the possibilities while calibrating expectations with “what to look for…and what to avoid.. A passion for the wild world just pours from these companions on hikes or longer expeditions into the wild and it can be the difference between an average experience and a special one. We have learned that there is absolutely no substitute for an experienced guide who is familiar with the area your are exploring.. And most if not all of these guides will tell you…that the odds of witnessing a truly magical experiences improve significantly the more time you spend in the field. Seem obvious? Easier said than done. A lesson learned often the hard way. Time in the Field. “You can’t see them if you are not out there among them”… and conditions are not always ideal when the magic happens. Invariably for the fellow traveler who decides to sleep in and not take the early sunrise hike misses the one sighting that they had placed the most value on in planning their trip.

Time in the Field! Persistence paid off for us recently. After more than four seasons of scouring the outer Cape on our boat from Nantucket to Truro with binoculars, using various strategies to solicit the presence of a white shark and observe their hunting prowess we were finally rewarded with a magnificent white shark predation on a small grey seal in real time near the North Chatham Inlet here on Cape Cod. A  true lesson in natural history and a reminder of the majesty of this predator in our midst.

Predation #1

Predation #2

Predation #4

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White shark 9.4.14

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A truly amazing spectacle that took less than 1 minute to complete. When the shark appeared finished we deplyed our decoy seal (made from pieces of synthetic carpet). A well placed toss and a splash solicted a return visit from the shark. NOTE: the shark is a male about 13 feet long tagged previously…nicknamed “Salty”.

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Salty sniffed this decoy and instantly realized that he had been duped. With a magnificent thrash of his tail he whacked the imposter hard and swam away.

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Outer Cape with WD

Shot acquired while flying with spotter pilot Wayne Davis on one of our days off the water. Note: This is a favorite surfers break off of Wellfleet

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This haul out of grey seals off of Pilgrim Heights is presently the largest gathering of seals on the Outer Cape this summer.

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Dr. Greg Skomal tags his 10th white shark off of Monomoy this week, a 14 footer nick named “Surf Hunter”.

White shark 9.17.14

Working off NAuset Beach

Here is what they see from the beach on most days we are out.

Imagine our horror when we have to worry about the local public!

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What we see. Darwin Award in progress?!!

Read more.. Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Monomoy NWR

Hard to believe that the dog days of August have come and gone here on Cape Cod and we are welcoming that wonderful time of year known around here as “Septober – Sixty-one Days of Heaven”. As many of you who follow this blog are aware our summer has been dominated by the support we are providing to the Massachusetts Shark Research Program led by Dr. Greg Skomal and John Chisholm of the Department of Marine Fisheries here. That said we did manage a visit into the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge recently to check up on the south – bound shorebirds that frequent our outer beaches at this time of year. Our target area was the southern end of the South Island of Monomoy, an area known to locals as “Powder Hole” a favorite spot especially for birders in New England during the fall.

Monomoy looking north with Shark Cove visible in its entirety

South Monomoy looking north. Powder Hole is the area of ponds in the center.Shark Cove is visible in upper right

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Grey seals congregate around this estuary running out the Powder Hole.

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A rare sighting of a Marbled Godwit passing through on its way south

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Dunlin in non breeding plumage

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Bank swallow feeding over saltwater pan

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Possible Raccoon tracks

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Monomoy Lighthouse now restored by USFWS but not in service for navigation.

And for those of you who are following the white shark research activity when the weather permits us to get a plane in the air and work close to shore the action is strong. We see on average 5 – 7 different white sharks on every trip. Here is a special image taken by Wayne David our spotter pilot. Notice a grey seal on the surf line and a white shark in the lower left part of the frame. This shark was eventually photographed, cataloged and tagged on this day enabling researchers to follow its movement habits into the future for up to five years.

A recent article describing the work of Greg Skomal and our team is here. http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140827/NEWS/408270304/0/SEARCH

Shark at the surface

A very rare look at a white shark at the surface

AD on South Beach

Photo Courtesy of Wayne Davis

Below is the fourth in a series of Field Reports of the White Shark research going on this summer in Cape Cod waters. We are proud to be supporting this work funded by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

 

Read more.. Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Summer

The summer is now more than half over and the various activities in the wild world here on Cape Cod have been both numerous and exciting to witness. As readers of this blog are aware, we have been supporting the White Shark Population Study field work under the direction of Dr. Greg Skomal through our involvement with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy since the study initiated in June. This has us out on the waters of the outer Cape two to three times a week on the Aleutian Dream with a dedicated team of researchers and volunteers. The work is hugely rewarding .

We have managed a few days off the water to check-in on the beginnings of the fall shorebird migration which has migrants continuing to pass through the outer Cape barrier beaches to refuel on their southerly journey. Other species are finally fledging their young and preparing to leave in the coming weeks. We  are posting a few images gathered over the past week including another wonderful visit to Sandy Neck in Barnstable.

And don’t miss the latest Field Report video with an update on the  White Shark Research below.

Super Moon

Supermoon rise over North Beach Island, Chatham

Supermoon

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A curious mola mola spotted near the North Chatham inlet

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Semipalimated sandpipers momentarily scared up by a passing Peregrine Falcon. Sandy Neck, Barnstable

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Peregrine Falcon

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Newly fledged Piping Plover

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An incredible gathering of more than 500 Tree Swallows near the great salt marsh on Sandy Neck, Barnstable

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This osprey was returning to a nest with a newly fledged youngster waiting for a chat with Mom (or dad)

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On patrol at the white shark cafe off South Beach, Chatham

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Photo courtesy of Wayne Davis

Read more.. Monday, August 18th, 2014

Wild Times with White Sharks

Like a moth to a flame……it is exactly a year since Shark Week 2013 kicked off and since we are off the water today took some time to reflect on the adventures with these magnificent creatures during the past year. Here are some of the highlights….

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Seal Island, South Africa

White Shark off South Beach

Monomoy NWR, Cape Cod

Luci

Off Chatham Inlet, Cape Cod

Guadeloupe Best

Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

White Sharks Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

White Shark Seal Island

Seal Island, South Africa

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (11)

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

Guadeloupe Island Close ups

Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

White Shark off South Beach (1)

Monomoy NWR, Cape Cod

PK BDay wish

Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

White Shark Seal Island (2)

Seal Island, South Africa

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (18)

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Predation event on a seal , Monomoy NWR, Cape Cod

 

 

White Shark Seal Island (3)

Out of the cage, Seal Island, South Africa

Blue Shark with Joe & Brian

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Picture of the Year 2013 made the cover of TIME Magazine – Seal Island, South Africa

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

Blue Shark off Rhode Island

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Free diving with Black tip sharks, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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Photo courtesy Wayne Davis : Working a white shark off Nauset Beach, Orleans, Massachusetts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more.. Sunday, August 10th, 2014

British Columbia: The Rugged Coast

We are overdue in reporting on some of the details behind our recent journey to the Pacific Northwest. As mentioned in a previous post, our goal was to restock our freezers with a stock of salmon, halibut, ling cod and hopefully have a chance to record some of the truly wonderful wildlife that is resident at this time of year there. Our trip took us north by plane to Bella Bella, a village on the coast well north in BC on the famous cruising grounds known as the Inside Passage. Bella Bella is primarily a First Nations community depending on  commercial fishing as a primary livelihood for residents. From there we caught a ride by water about 20 miles to the south and west to a mobile fish camp anchored in a protected cove for the summer sport fishing season. The camp caters to return visitors who have frequented the beautiful Hakai Pass recreational area before and are comfortable getting around safely in their 17 ft custom fit out for fishing Boston whalers. Accompanied by son Spencer we were eager to get fishing as soon as we arrived. Our perseverance paid off over the 4 days we were on the grounds and managed to return with more than 100 lbs of frozen fish filets to restock our larders. Also sent a few choice pieces to the Smoke house as well. Following are few of the memories. We had a couple of days of dense fog which made it a challenge to get around but when it did clear is was beautiful. And the prize of the trip was a great one hour encounter with a small pod of Transient killer whales.

 

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Black turnstones join a small flock of Surfbirds

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Gulls and auk-lets intensely feed on a herring bait ball

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Female matriarch of the pod…did this surface “spy – hop likely to check us out.

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A young member of the pod did a complete breach just before this frame was taken

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Hakai Pass 2014

This male had a very distinctly deformed dorsal fin. Likely son of the female above

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Hakai Orca

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Rhinoceros auk-let

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Ceremonial native canoes from as far away as Alaska and Washington State were visiting

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Pacific oystercatchers

 

 

Read more.. Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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!!

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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

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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)

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Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (17)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (2)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (1)

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Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro

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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

Monomoy’s Future at a Crossroads

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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

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Minke Whale feeding on Stellwagen

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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.

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Whale watchers look on in amazement.

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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