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.

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Read more.. Friday, July 4th, 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.

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Read more.. Tuesday, May 27th, 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.

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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

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Cinnamon Teal Drake preening

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

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A pair of Northern Shovelers

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Read more.. Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Polar Migrations

The Barents Sea region well north of the Arctic Circle encompasses territory from Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland. The area is uniquely wild and is home to one of the last truly nomadic herding cultures on earth, the reindeer herding Sami people.

We had an opportunity to travel to the Norwegian region of Finnmark in Norway’s far north to observe this remarkable landscape first hand in the waning days of winter. Gearing up for an expedition like this meant shifting to our cold weather kit. After three weeks in the Caribbean swimming with whales this presented some challenges.  The temperatures were cold with averages during the day of – 10 degrees C and as low as -30 degrees C at night. One of the most beautiful spectacles in nature, the aurora borealis or “northern lights”, are often visible at this latitude on cold clear evenings. We ventured out a few evenings and braved the cold to witness this. During this expedition we also explored the rocky, treeless coast and ventured far into the frozen river system that separates Norway from Russia in the land of brown bear and wolverine. We traveled by snowshoe, snow mobile and dog sled into the birch forest areas where reindeer graze for the winter before they make a spring migration back to the coast – a trip they have been making for thousands of years with the indigenous Sami people. The people were warm and welcoming and the landscapes were dramatic as you can see. In another post we will report more about the region’s political organization formerly known as Lapland and now known as Samiland.

Here are a few images recorded along the way. We have included a few examples of artwork by indigenous artists we found in special places on our journey to help tell the story. Huge thanks go to Kevin Clement of Zegrahm Expeditions who lead our trip and also to Kaare Tannvik, our mentor and guide for this journey. They lead us back in time into places that most people will never see. And our traveling companions from South Africa and the USA were wonderful to be with for this extraordinary adventure.

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Steller’s Eider Drake

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Long tailed duck drake

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Magnificent King Eiders in flight

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A Painting by Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa

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Read more.. Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Sperm Whale Heaven

_JJK0003Once again we were fortunate to travel to the island of Dominica to observe the population of sperm whales that inhabit the waters surrounding the island. This expedition was organized by Ted Cheeseman of Cheeseman’s Ecological Safaris and was conducted under a special permit from the Dominican government. Over the nine days we spent on the island we were extremely fortunate to witness some incredible interactions with these whales including the seldom seen entry of a large bull sperm whale into the area which made for some terrific observations of social behavior among the females. We were also treated to sightings of Spotted dolphins and Fraser’s dolphins and many seabirds._JJK0062_JJK0011_JJK9401_JJK9648_JJK9750_JJK9899_JJK9910JJK_1093JJK_1479

Read more.. Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

We are still sifting through the images and savoring the experience of our recent trek down Sandy Neck here on a frozen Cape Cod but this has not stopped us from continuing to get outside in the frigid but beautiful winter landscapes here to find the wild things. The weather is forecast to change and warmer temperatures with lots of rain and wind are expected shortly….so we thought we would post some of the images we have recorded in the past week including a host of beautiful raptors and some uncommon waterfowl. We also have had a few additional snowy owl encounters and a sighting of a White Fronted Goose among the Canada Geese on a local golf course.

This will likely be our last report for awhile as we head south to Caribbean waters to be with our friends the Sperm whales of Dominica and the Humpback whales of the Silver Bank near the Dominican Republic. Check back for these reports in a few weeks.

White fronted goose (right) - A rare Cape Cod visitor

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge - Chatham

Snowy Owl in flight

North Chatham overlooking Tern Island toward the Outer Beach

Northern Harrier in flight - Fort Hill, Eastham

Great Blue Heron in flight - Fort Hill

Northern Shoveler (male)

Northern Harrier

Hooded Mergansers in flight - Eastham

Fort Hill view of Nauset Beach

Hooded Mergansers in flight

White fronted goose in flight (left)

Peregrine Falcon overlooks the frozen turf at Eastward Ho!- Chatham

Red Tailed Hawk - Chatham

Surf Scoter - Morris Island, Chatham

Common Goldeneye - Morris Island, Chatham

Read more.. Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

In the Kingdom of the Snowy Owl

Our winter explorations of the wilderness areas of Cape Cod were taken to a new level this past week. Working with expert tracker and Cape Cod Naturalist Todd Kelley we embarked on an epic hike out on to a wintery and frozen Sandy Neck with the goal of walking all the way to the point and returning. Walking along the frozen edges of Barnstable marsh and into the beautiful maritime forests of red cedar, pine and even a few wild holly trees interspersed with the  tundra-like feel of desolation and dunes was an awesome backdrop to search for the magnificent snowy owls that have been reported over the pat 50 days out there. The frigid temps on this day did not deter  the Neck’s predator population of raptors from scouring the snow and ice for rodents and small birds. Amazingly we had 7 separate snowy owl sightings (probably three different birds), and also had great views of red tailed hawk, merlin, northern harrier, sharp shinned hawk and even a short eared owl! Our days walk covered an exhausting 17 miles and was made even more challenging as we had to break our own trail through 5 – 7 inches of crusty snow on top of the frozen sand. Absolutely a day of “mindblowing” wonder…and after a few days of recovery the day will go down as one of the best we have ever experienced on Cape Cod at any time of year. See what you think. A few images follow.

Female merlin

At the point

The Point....at the half way mark. Lovin' it!

Incredible look at the amount of insulation in feathers that these owls possess.

Short eared owl in flight

Northern Harrier hunts the dunes (a female)

Down the home stretch

Short eared owl perched in the distance

Read more.. Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

One of the benefits of the continuous storm track we have seen on Cape Cod this winter is the incredible “post storm” landscapes that are left once the snow stops and the system’s move up into the Canadian Maritime Provinces. One needs to bundle up but the results are worth it. In particular the magnificent snowy owl has been easier to find and shoot! Check out our latest images here.

Morris Island, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Chatham

Morris Island, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Chatham

Read more.. Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

Brandt Geese forage on seaweed at the shore's edge

A pair of Hooded mergansers

The magnificent Snowy Owl. A juvenile

Young Red Tailed Hawk a bit annoyed by my interest in its meal

Mouth of the Swan River at dusk

West Dennis Beach

Near the mouth of Bass River

Red Breatested mergansers (3 females) with Hooded merganser pair

Perseverance has finally paid off in our quest to find the snowy owl and capture some images. There are still reliable reports of these beauties hunting on Sandy Neck (2), West Dennis Beach, Gray’s Beach, Nauset Beach, Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, High Head (2), Race Point, and the West End dunes in Provincetown (2). We finally caught up with this fellow late one afternoon at West Dennis Beach. For those who don’t know West Dennis Beach lies at the southern terminus of Bass River as it empties into Nantucket Sound, is easily accessible and offers an impressive winter landscape right now. In addition to the snowy owl we also found some other natural happenings including a young Red Tailed hawk who appeared to be devouring a small waterfowl, some hooded mergansers and of course Brandt geese and juvenile Herring gulls seemingly impervious to the winter chill. On this winter day the temperature was mighty cold and we had to take special care with the cameras. Air temp was approximately 10 degrees F and with windchill (SW winds of 15 kts) the temp felt like minus 10 degrees F (that is -23 degrees C)! Have not felt those temps since we returned from the Himalayas!

Read more.. Sunday, February 2nd, 2014