We are happy to back home on Cape Cod and over the past week have started to get back out in the field to see how the slow warming trends of spring here are signaling the changes and new wild visitors. Here are a few images we captured.
After leaving Dominica and our fantastic experiences swimming and observing Sperm whales we made the 1000 mile journey northward via Puerto Rico to join the team at Aquatic Adventures in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Since it is not easy traveling in the Caribbean our journey took several days travel but we finally climbed on board the Turks & Caicos Explorer, our live-aboard dive boat home for the next 6 days and headed out 80 miles to the NNE finding the Silver Bank. These grounds were made famous in colonial times when Spanish treasure ships came to grief on poorly charted coral reefs and deposited lots of treasure on the shallow banks in storms. This was a return trip for us having had the experience in March 2012 and been so moved by it that we vowed to come back for more. We were not disappointed.
Our main objective in coming to Dominica was to observe sperm whales in the wild with the benefit and guidance of local researchers and guides. Because of its is unique Caribbean geography (and bathymetry) Dominica is one of the few places on Planet Earth that you can observe sperm whales in an ocean environment near land and in relatively protected and calm warm water. For much of the last decade researchers under the direction of Shane Gero and Hal Whitehead have been studying a resident population of about 20 family groups that live in the region. Sperm whales are highly social animals and, like elephants, form large family units made up principally of female family members with juveniles. Social units are required to share in the protection and rearing of young sperm whales as adult whales must dive to great depths to feed and youngsters cannot dive deeply for a number of years after birth. They are often accompanied by relatives who act as “care providers” at the surface while mom dives for food. Principally squid in the dark ocean depths.
We were very fortunate to acquire permits from the government of Dominica and get to sea with ground operators who have been part of The Sperm Whale Project team for a number of years. Most of the individual whales we observed were known to our guides and even had names and a family lineage which we learned. Male sperm whales come of age around their tenth birthday and at that point leave the family unit to join bachelor herds who travel the ocean mostly in northern climes nearer to the ice to feed and generally “learn” to be the man. Unlikely that male whales return to their home path in later life but studies of this are as yet unknown. Among the beautiful interactions we experienced we did connect with a near mature young male of 8 or 9 years who provided a spirited encounter (now posted) on YouTube on our channel – aleutiandream.
Whale Tale: Face to Face with Earth’s largest Predator.
Our journey to Dominica, the Nature Island proved to be everything and more than we could have hoped for. The island is, in jest, referred to “as the one island in the Caribbean that Christopher Columbus would recognize if he returned to the area”. It is a beautiful forested mountainous paradise that rockets in several peaks out of the sea to as high as 4700 feet on one peak. Because of its severe geography and the lack of a proper protected port it has been relatively left alone over the centuries and escaped significant development. It features beautiful waterfalls and remote canyons for hikers, trekkers and birders among others. It is a destination for many who enjoy the active sport called “Canyoning” . We saved this experience for another trip but did manage to spend two full days exploring the forests and coast for their endemic birds. Absolutely beautiful. Of note several sites on the island were used as locations for the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean a few years ago. For our purposes the main attraction was the ability to gain permits from the government of Dominica to join a locally based research team who is studying a local population of Sperm Whales. These family groups are in the general area for almost the entire year to raise their young and feed in the warm deep waters which are rich with “arrowhead squid”.
In the final stages of packing for another expedition into warm waters in search of the largest predator on planet earth – the Sperm Whale. The stuff of legends especially well known to the New England whalers of our Cape Cod and the Islands region, these incredible creatures boast the largest brain on the planet too. If you watch the attached link you will learn a bit about where we are going and why. Dominica, in the Antilles, is one of the preferred locations for Atlantic sperm whales to mate and rear their young. We are fortunate to be linking up with a Canadian research team that will give us an up close an personal experience. We are praying for fair weather.
Underwater camera gear checked out and adrenaline is starting to flow. With only one flight a day into the island we are over-nighting in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico before we head south.
Will be checking out our new GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition cameras amongst the other gear we usually take. Dominica has some unique endemic birds as well and we will spend a few days hiking its mountainous forests.
For those that have followed our adventures both at home on Cape Cod and elsewhere in the world over the past year this will be a nice little review. It was fun to put it all together and throw in some family images as well. Hope you enjoy the show. Living life at full speed is absolutely exhilarating so while we still can….we go for it!
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Winter Storm Nemo, the product of two merging winter systems, converged on Cape Cod late afternoon on Friday, February 8th as the sun was setting. Barometer fell and the wind accelerated with temperatures still warmish in the high 30’s F. Sleet and rain fell in the mix as the wind continued to build to a raging gale shaking the house fiercely. Top gust in the wee hours was 84 MPH!
By 1200 midnight the temperature began to plummet and reached the low 20s instantly freezing everything and producing fluffy snow to add to the mayhem. The storm moved rapidly eastward but was large enough to affect the Outer Cape until well into Saturday evening. We stayed close to home but did manage to get out for a bit on Saturday afternoon to observe the “white-out” conditions in the still howling storm force winds and drifting snow.
Of course we worried about the birds and tried to keep them fed when we saw their precious forms getting blown about near our feeders.
As an intense winter storm bears down on New England we are wondering how our wildlife will fare during the festivities. Hearty they are but still we wonder.
As we have reported on this blog many times, Cape Cod is an important migration stop for many species. In winter the outer Cape in particular is a destination for many waterfowl species which come to feed in our cold waters before they return to the Arctic to breed in the North American summer . As a result we are blessed to have thousands of water birds grace our bays and estuaries until spring. It is pleasure to get out and observe them as well as our resident land birds as they all go about the business of finding food, dodging predators and generally biding their time until spring.
In preparation for the storm we have re-stocked our feeders and will be looking for opportunities to observe and record the experiences as the storm rages here over the next 48 hours.
We are so privileged to live by the sea and witness the many moods of the ocean. We are especially enamored with winter when the gales come and for the most part we are forced to stay on the land and observe nature’s work. On this day we experienced very strong westerly gales at 25 – 35kts with frequent gusts up to 50kts. Temperatures were in the 10 degree range with the wind chill factor.
The series of images is particularly interesting when you consider that the Chatham fishing fleet must navigate across this bar to get out to the fishing grounds. With depths barely 10 feet of water in the deepest path across the bar it does not take much to get the surf to break across the channel. Needless to say it is very dangerous to navigate here and this day was a good day to remain tied up to the mooring.
Hawaii is now long in the rear view mirror. Since returning to the Cape we have experienced some of the coldest weather conditions in years. Arctic temperatures in the -10 to -20 degrees Centigrade (10 – 20 degrees F) have been with us for more than 10 days and as a result our estuaries and saltwater harbors have become frozen. A beautiful winter landscape to explore but it is a bit of challenge to get into the field. We have been bundling up with many layers. That said we really love winter on Cape Cod with its fresh frozen dramatic landscapes and abundant wildlife. Just have to look for it.