« My June 8th Whale Watch, Part 1 | Home | July Update »

My June 8th Whale Watch, Part 2

Posted by Frederick Wasti
Jun 15 2014

Note: This is only "Part 2" of my pictures and descriptions of a whale watch I attended on June 8th, 2014.

I am documenting the trip (which may or may not be my only trip for 2014) here in this blog. However, it will appear as two entries, the previous "My June 8th Whale Watch, Part 1", and this "My June 8th Whale Watch, Part 2", due to the number of photos included.

If you happen to be reading this "Part 2" entry (posted for 6/15/14) first, please stop and instead look first at the "Part 1" entry (posted for 6/14/14), since the images and captions appear in simple chronological order (divided approximately in half), and neither entry ("Part 1" or "Part 2") stands on its own.

I have appended the latest blood test results to the end of this "Part 2" entry.

The story now continues (from where "Part 1" left off)...

A baleen whale's upper jaw is smaller than its lower jaw, and the difference is most pronounced when the whale has its mouth open while feeding:

Each baleen plate (which grows continuously during the whale's life, much like a fingernail), is frayed on the inside surface, so that, while the plates resemble the "teeth" (so to speak) of a person's hair comb when viewed from the outside of the mouth, they actually form a complex filter of hair-like bristles on the inside of the upper jaw:

The pink ridge you can see inside the upper jaw here is the "hard palate" on the roof of the mouth:

In this photo, two humpbacks have surfaced together. Such cooperative feeding is often seen among some whales on many whale watch trips, while other whales can also be seen feeding concurrently, but individually, nearby:

[I should point out that we are not quite as close to these whales as many of these photos might make it seem. We were certainly not far from these very cooperative whales, but these photos were taken with a telephoto lens (with an effective 35mm focal length of 450mm), and most of the processed images have also been cropped as well.]

Now, in this series of photos,...

...one whale of a feeding pair...

...ends up turning upside down in the process of scooping up the fish:

For feeding whales, "table manners don't count". :-)

I should point out that, while feeding takes up several hours each day for these whales, they also do have rest periods, play periods, and travel periods, and not every whale watch trip is the same as this one -- they vary so much that there may not really be such a thing as a "typical" whale watch trip:

The whales we saw on this trip were primarily feeding, but it is also gratifying to see playfully active whales at times, or "friendly" whales (purposefully "visiting" the whale watch boat, circling around the boat and/or going from side to side under the boat). Every whale watch trip is indeed different:

Furthermore, I should point out that these whales - humpback whales - are generally the most active, most friendly, and otherwise most cooperative of the larger whale species, so that Massachusetts whale watches tend to concentrate on encounters with humpbacks:

I should also point out that whale watching is regulated by the U.S. government (with mostly common-sense rules to follow), and, in general, most commercial whale watch boats are well-behaved around the whales:

However, there is a problem with a small minority of the smaller, private boats that seek to watch whales -- most private boats are very careful around the whales, but some of them, mostly (I hope) unintentionally, can sometimes act in ways that endanger humans and whales alike:

Unfortunately, most of the small private boats are not aware of the regulations (although many - but not all - still behave intelligently and appropriately), and enforcement is generally lacking (that is to say that the U.S. Coast Guard does not devote resources to watching the boats near the whales):

Commercial whale watching in Massachusetts waters has been going on since 1975, when one charter fishing boat captain from Provincetown noticed that fisherman often stopped fishing to watch whales whenever they appeared, and he realized that dedicated whale watch trips might attract people who just wanted to see whales:

One of the special aspects of watching humpback whales is that individual whales are generally quite recognizable (something that is not true in nearly all other species). For example, these are the flukes of a female humpback named "Salt":

Salt has been seen every year in Massachusetts waters since 1975. As you can see, she has been seen once again here this year, with her 13th known calf by her side. (Humpbacks - and, in fact, most baleen whales - give birth most commonly every two or three years or so):

One of these two calves is Salt's calf. While Salt and the other mother (named "Perseid") were feeding nearby, the two calves approached our boat to (seemingly) say "Hallo". [I should point out that this photo and the next three seem overly cropped, but that was only because the whales were "too close" to my camera's telephoto lens.]

Here, one of the calves rolled on its side and put one of its long white flippers (or pectoral fins) into the air -- needless to say, this was enjoyed immensely by everyone on the boat. It seemed at that point very much as if we were "babysitting" the two calves while their mothers were busy feeding. :-)

All of a sudden, Salt, Perseid, and another adult humpback came up in unison, with their mouths wide open, right next to the boat (in fact, too close for me to get all three whales fully into the same photo). Salt is the whale in the upper right corner:

Here is Salt again, still with her mouth open (but starting to close), while one of the other two has already leveled off at the bottom of the photo:

As you can see, humpback whales can be very cooperative for whale watching. Throughout all of this encounter with humpbacks, our boat remained mostly motionless, moving very, very slowly from one group to another only occasionally:

There are other species that can also be seen here in Massachusetts. For example, after leaving the humpbacks (which were the whales located farthest from our port of Plymouth on this particular trip), we started back, and came upon a group of three finback whales, perhaps a mile or two from the beaches near the tip of Cape Cod:

The three finbacks seemed to be feeding as a group of two and as an individual. However, we also discovered that these finbacks (members of the second largest species in the world, larger than humpbacks) were accompanied by several dozen Atlantic white-sided dolphins:

It is not unusual to see such dolphins in the company of feeding whales (or sometimes in the company of traveling whales). [I do suspect that the dolphins are usually a nuisance to the whales, though.]

Atlantic white-sided dolphins are the most common dolphin species seen in Massachusetts waters north of Cape Cod. (In the warmer waters south of Cape Cod, other dolphins are often seen as frequently as is this species.)

Finbacks are faster than humpbacks, and, statistically, are less likely to come up close to a stationary boat while they are feeding. (It does happen sometimes, but not on this trip.)

The seemingly more playful dolphins did come over close to us on occasion, but they mostly seemed to continue feeding along with the finbacks:

It is quite easy here to see why these dolphins are called "white-sided", although the white stripe on their sides turns into a tan stripe closer to the tail:

All in all, I did have a successful whale watch, and I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for "watching". :-)

On the day after the whale watch, I had a treatment day at Dana-Farber in Boston. The blood tests results were "more of the same", i.e., about the same as they've been for many months now.

For example, my total white cells count continues to hover well within the normal range (of roughly 4,000 to 9,000 white cells per microliter):


In addition, my lymphocyte count remains very, very low (which is what is supposed to happen because of my treatment), while my neutrophil count is quite high (because neutrophil production in my bone marrow is not being suppressed by excessive lymphocyte production):


I know that the above two graphs have looked pretty boring for many months now, but that is what is desired. So, boring or not, what's not to like? :-)

Categories: General, Leukemia