East Gloucester and Veteran’s kindergarten classes were treated to a fabulous excursion aboard the Hurricane II, Cape Ann Whale Watch’s premiere whale watching boat. The kids had a blast and were fantastically well behaved. Miss Daly, Charlotte’s kindergarten teacher, mentioned that this was the Gloucester kindergartener’s first ever whale watch adventure. The trip was so successful they hope to make it a tradition. Many, many thanks to Cape Ann Whale Watch for the special rate for kindergarteners and their families!
The first sighting of the morning was a Basking Shark, which delighted everyone, including the crew, as Basking Sharks had not been seen for several years. Our naturalist, Tina McMahon, is wonderfully knowledgeable as well as passionate about marine life and she shared so much information, I hope I am reporting accurately. According to Tina, Basking Sharks are filter feeders and harmless.
We motored on until reaching Stellwagen Bank, where, to the utter delight of everyone on board, a female Humpback, named Dross, and her approximately two-to three-month old baby were spotted. Tina reported that this is the fourth calf of Dross’s that the Cape Ann Whale Watch team has seen over the years.
Reading more about baby Humpbacks, they are approximately 1 to 1.5 tons at birth. For the first six months, they only drink mother’s milk; a super concentrated formula high in nutrients and fat. On a diet of about 100 gallons of mother’s milk each day, they grow an inch a day and gain about 100 pounds per day! Doing the math, baby Humpbacks add on an additional ton about every 20 days!
Needing to keep Baby Dross well fed, Mom dove deeply and frequently to feed, leaving her calf at the surface. The baby was very curious and came within inches of the boat. When calves are in the area, the Captain turns off the motor to keep the calf safe and to allow the young whale to check out the boat to satisfy its curiosity.
Humpback Whale flukes help naturalists and scientist identify individual whales. The markings on the under side, revealed when the whale dives, as well as the pattern of the serrated edge of the fluke all provide information in identifying the Humpback. Baby whales are not named until they are a bit older and their flukes take on a distinctive pattern.
Compare Mama Dross’s fluke to baby Humpback fluke. The serrated edges of Mama’s fluke are jagged (first photo) whereas the calf’s are smoother (next photo).
In the footage, first you see Dross deep diving for food, with her fluke thrust upward. In the next clip, she has resurfaced alongside her calf and deeply exhales (blows). In the third clip, Mom and calf are swimming side-by-side and the baby does a mini blow. He then dives, but without the upward thrust of the fluke, which is a learned behavior. In the last clip, Mom does another deep dive and her calf dives, too.
The music is the from the album Songs of the Humpback Whale, produced by Roger Payne in 1970. The track is ” Distant Whale.” Reportedly, only the males sing however, I thought the ethereal vocalizing was beautiful when combined with the footage.
More about Head Naturalist Tina McMahon: “Please join me aboard the Hurricane II. I have been fascinated with whales and marine environment since my first whale watch in the early 90’s. I love to share my passion for the natural world and have passengers experience the awe of mother nature. My goal is to inspire others, to instill a curiosity and promote stewardship for the planet.”
Biography and Experience: An Adirondack native, Tina relocated to Gloucester in the early 90’s and taught science for 32 years. During her summer months, she was a naturalist for Cape Ann Whale Watch. Tina recently retired from teaching and is the educational coordinator and senior naturalist for the company. In addition, she was a PolarTREC teacher on a research expedition to Greenland, a member of the Stellwagen Bank Advisory Council and continues to look for experiences that she can bring back to the passengers aboard the Hurricane II.
Mom’s chunkier dorsal fin and the young whale’s smaller dorsal fin (foreground)