North Atlantic Humpbacks in Winter

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For the 4th consecutive year we made our way south out of the frigid New England winter to spend time with our friends at Aquatic Adventures who run expeditions from the Dominican Republic to the Silver Bank to observe North Atlantic humpback whales in their winter habitat. As many of you are aware 2015 is showing the northeast portion of the US and Canada some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in addition to record amounts of snowfall. The Boston area, near where we live on Cape Cod, had already recorded more than 2 meters of snowfall by the time of our departure (in mid February) and more was on the way.  And we were also very excited to join whale researcher Jenn Tackaberry from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA for our week on the Silver Bank. Jenn has studied Gulf of Maine whales for a decade but this was her first chance to observe humpback whale mothers and young calves (3 – 5 weeks old) as they learn the ways of the ocean in safe Caribbean waters without predators.

We made the 10 hour passage (80 miles off shore) from Puerto Plata out to the Silver Bank in relatively calm waters. However for the following five days we had strong winds and choppy seas to deal with making underwater photography a challenge. And the weather did not dampen the excitement of the expedition team as we observed these beautiful mammals conducting the child rearing and mating rituals that they have been doing here for 100’s of millennia.

Here are just a few images from the experience and once again it was unforgettable. For more information about these expeditions and to learn more about the partnership between Aquatic Adventures and the Center for Coastal Studies AND how you can help – please check this site.

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Check out this short video we have just posted. It was inspired by one of our fellow travelers.

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Read more.. Monday, February 23rd, 2015

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.

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

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Read more.. Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Whales Seeking Support


This beautiful humpback whale was born in 2009 down in Caribbean waters and has returned to Cape Cod in each of the last four years. Her mother is called Springboard. PIANO has survived a ship strike (2011) a disentanglement from fishing gear (2012) and likely other predatory threats in her young life. How do we know all this? Dedicated researchers at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts have been performing research on humpback whales for decades and particularly studying our population known as Gulf of Maine humpbacks. Long-term studies of individual humpback whales provide an important window into this amazing species. Whales like PIANO are not only well-loved by whale watchers but also key to their understanding of humpback whale biology, ecology and threats. Thanks to more than three decades of research by CCS and their collaborators, the Gulf of Maine humpback whale population is the most well-studied in the world. The results of their research here have been applied to studies of humpback whales world-wide, and new techniques for studying large whales are routinely developed and ground-truthed with their extensive data sets. The knowledge that they share with managers helps to guide protection measures for this endangered species.

Please consider supporting this critically important research on the Gulf of Maine population of Humpback Whales currently underway at the Center for Coastal Studies on Cape Cod.

Consider joining us in supporting this work with a donation by accessing the link below.

Read more.. Thursday, December 12th, 2013

South Georgia

This week marks the fifth anniversary of our visit to the southern ocean which included stops  in the Falkland Islands and the mythical South Georgia en route to the Antarctic Peninsula. So many beautiful memories of this epic voyage with truly amazing people who, we are proud to say, are now great life long friends. Such is the way for those who share time south of the convergence line in the South Atlantic. Will offer a few images that might give you a glimpse of the majesty and sheer wildness of the southern ocean but one memory seems to come to the front.

It may have been inspired by recent media reminders of historic events of our past. Note JFK’s tragic passing 50 years ago. And the surprisingly brief but brilliant Gettysburg Address by Lincoln of 150 years ago. Heck, some historians note that Beowulf was penned perhaps 1000 years ago this month. But for those who were present in the tight meeting area aboard M/V Le Diamant while the ship was “hove -to” and “jogging” in a fierce westerly gale gusting over 70 knots near the southern end of South Georgia, the memory is still fresh of the first telling of The Battle for Cooper Bay – by fellow traveler and guide Pepper Trail. The report of a struggle with indigenous wildlife which included tales of heroism and near tragedy, recounted brilliantly, has forever emblazoned the tale in the minds of those present for as long as we live.  In true oral tradition no formal document was published. Some say there are a couple of unauthorized copies of Pepper’s notes floating around in private collections but these are unconfirmed. The report was both epic in the telling and  even in memory  from five years ago brings tears to my eyes. Fortunately there was no loss of life in the struggle for control of the landing beach at Cooper Bay but there were significant losses of pride and a couple of sturdy oars. Quick decision making by our able Expedition Leader  – JD Massyn, ensured that only good memories remain from the encounter.

For those of you who were present….and you know who you are…this post is especially for you. For those who were not and have a lust for the spirit of adventure and feel the call of the wild – by all means make plans to visit the Southern Ocean and especially South Georgia before you leave the earth. Incredible place.

Pepper Trail points the way

King Penguin colony - Salisbury Plain - South Georgia

Southern Royal Albatross - Perhaps 2000 miles from its chick

Light Mantled Sooty Albatross on the nest - Gold Harbor

Elephant Seal bull - Mating season is over

South American fur seal "family" unit - pups just a few days old

Type "B" orca - Unique to Southern Ocean waters and very rare

Read more.. Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Transitions of the Season

Aleutian Dream at Cow Yard landing

It is that time of year when the NE Gales start to become more frequent and the temperatures drop toward the freezing mark. Our boat  Aleutian Dream has been in the water here on Cape Cod for over 6 months and the time has come to haul it for the winter season. It is always hard to give up the chance to be on the water in a moments notice. Here are some additional unforgettable images from our last adventure a week ago out with the humpbacks off Chatham Inlet.

But even as the seasons change there are still wild adventures to enjoy on land with the onset of the “off-season” quiet time on Cape Cod. Just check out these images Pam made from our porch the past few days.

Read more.. Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Offshore with the Humpbacks

The blessings of our mild and beautiful autumn weather continue to flow as we have been able to keep our boats in the water and in the past few days venture outside into the Atlantic Ocean to observe various life forms returning to our waters including rafts of common eiders and white winged scoters as well as a host of gannets and other pelagic seabirds which are in the area before returning to their winter waters in the South Atlantic. The biggest bonus of the fall season however has been getting absolutely stunning views of our Gulf of Maine humpbacks who have been seen easily within 3 miles of our coastline off of Chatham Inlet and are feeding there constantly on the massive amounts of sand eels that still bloom in our waters. We counted more than 30 different whales in the two afternoons we spent at sea. The whales are feeding cooperatively again using the “bubble-netting” technique we described in a previous blog entry (August 2013). As stated then it is still quite rare to get such large concentrations of feed at or near the surface in our waters so close to shore and seeing the humpbacks exhibiting this feeding behavior is very special.

Read more.. Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Offshore with the Humpbacks

Our good friend Denise Lawrence of Aquatic Adventures – an accomplished naturalist, diver and guide for whale encounters in the Caribbean, came to Cape Cod at our invitation to see her beloved humpbacks in their summer feeding grounds for the first time. Having been traveling in South Africa the pressure was on to quickly locate whales and hope for good weather to get out to see them. With a little bit of research and some good luck we were able to get on the whales about 22 miles SE of Chatham  actually east of Nantucket on a fine day. Our luck was even better as we realized with a flood of seabirds swarming that the small group of whales we came upon were actually using “bubble- netting” to seize their prey. Two of the whales we witnessed were later identified by researchers using the Gulf of Maine Humpback Whale Catalog curated by our friends at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown as whales that had been photographed and identified on the Silver Bank in 2012! “Angus” and “Mira”. Connecting the dots was incredible. See our posts and conversation with “fluke matchers” in Flickr

Humpback whale "Angus" off of Chatham

Humpback whale "Mira"

Humpback whale "Mira" off of Chatham

Humpback whale "pleats" has propeller scars. It is the 2007 calf of Ventisca

Read more.. Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Dyer Island and Africa's real "Big Five"

Checking back in from wintery South Africa at the very southern tip of the continent. Staying in the tiny village of Kleinbaai which is the white shark cage diving capital of the world. On a beautiful winter day logged the following images of the area’s “Big Five” – the southern right whale, bottle nose dolphin, African penguin, cape fur seal & the magnificent great white shark. This area is truly beautiful and I have made a note to come back again. Of note the shark cage diving operations have moved into the shallower waters nearer the beach to find their finned targets. Unusual for the sharks to move away from the Geyser island”alley” normally quite active in the winter months.

Southern Right Whale in full breach
Still sorting through the incredible experience had with Chris and Monique Fallows at Seal Island in False Bay during the past two weeks. Will be posing thoughts and images soon. While you are waiting enjoy this look at the beautiful Dyer Island Conservation area.

Large southerly swell rolls in to the rocky coast around Gansbaai

Cape fur seals "jugging" upside down on the edge of shark alley

Read more.. Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Silver Bank: Return to Humpback Whale Heaven

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.

Tender platform we used to track the humpbacks specially designed by Tom Conlin

Mom and calf in a fly by

Tail breach in process

Mother is looking for a wandering calf

Fading light distant breach

Calf exhibits "Spinning head breach"

Chin breach

Curious calf approaches JJK. Likely a yearling born last year due to size

Up close and personal with a large female

Very distinctive hump

Another close encounter

Massive Pectoral fins are used to communicate

Fluke headed down

Humpback whale Zen Master Tom Conlin (Photo by Diane Byrd)

Soft encounter with an adult female

Mother nurses her calf

Breacher with the Explorer in the background

Sea Turtle makes an appearance

Humpback female comes up for air about every 25 minutes when with a nursing calf

Read more.. Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Hawaii Journal: Ocean Biodiversity and Humpback Whales

Octopus breaks free

Still life

Lava at the water's edge

Wandering Tattler

Northern Pintail got blown in overnight

Ruddy Turnstones

Pam, Mia and Spencer inspect the tidepools

Green turtle with coat of algae forgaing in the pools

Every year more than 2,000 humpback whales migrate to Hawaiian waters.  A population of up to 600 inhabits the waters off Big Island’s western coast.Humpbacks come to Hawaii for two reasons: to mate and to give birth.  Most Hawaiian humpbacks travel 3000 miles from Alaska where they spend their summers, but whales in Hawaii have been recorded traveling all over the Pacific, coming from as far away as South America and Russia.

Adults can attain lengths of up to 60 feet, but most humpbacks max out at around 45 feet.  At birth the calf weighs only about a ton (mom weighs up to 50 tons), but it comes out already measuring nearly 15 feet in length. After watching diligently from the shore for more than week from several locations and witnessing the telltale signs of mother and calf pairs interacting from time to time we finally got the chance to get out on a boat and see these magnificent creatures close up. This youngster was barely a week or two old and was learning to breathe and dive along side its mother. It treated us to a couple of “baby breaches”.

Read more.. Sunday, January 13th, 2013