Cape Cod – whales and sea birds

It is supposed to be crisp and clear here on Cape Cod in mid-October; the 22nd however was clear, hot, sunny, and windless. It was glorious summer day for those who like summer. I was working (certainly not very hard work) a whale boat for NECWA (Google it, support it) out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Krill Carson organizes an all-day outing twice a year to get 100 of her friends and supporters out on the water. It is ostensibly a fund-raiser, but generally we see it as a fun-raiser. Eight hours on a fast boat doing the bidding of 100 naturalists is as good as it gets.
We saw five species of whale (the larger ones; Minke, Humpback, Fin), two smaller toothed whales (Common Dolphin and Harbor Porpoise), two seals (Gray and Harbor), three species of sparrows (really!), and lots of seabirds (Great, Manx, Sooty, and Cory’s Shearwater as well as Fulmar and Razorbill). Of course there were lots of gulls but Black-legged Kittiwake and Bonaparte’s Gull were the only non-breeders. We missed Sabine’s, Lesser Black-backed, and Little Gull – can’t have everything I guess.
One of the highlights was seeing a Mola Mola or Ocean Sunfish. This is a big parrot-headed fish; actually it is pretty much only head, floated/swam right along the side of our boat. We had close up looks at a pretty good-sized one. Krill is trying to do research on Mola Mola but as it is not endangered, very heavy, and oceanic she is pretty much limited to dead fish and a limited number of colleagues with whom to consult. She is also collecting data on Basking Sharks – NECWA (please Google it) is doing what it can to get information and people interested in these lesser known species.

There you are out to sea and just ahead there is a triangular fin! Could it be a shark? Danger? Nope, in this case it is merely the goofy looking Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola). This realization may not be reached until your blood pressure spikes and you perspire heavily; but this fish is harmless unless it somehow falls on you. It is the heaviest of the bony fishes weighing at well over a ton in some cases. 500 pounders are run of the mill.
Krill Carson of NECWA (still haven’t googled it? You should.) Has a tripodal device with a hanging one-ton scale – she has that setup because the 1000 pound scale he had previously broke with one of her heavier sunfish. It is somewhat amazing that these fishes  reach this weight with a diet of only jelly fish. There really isn’t much known about the creatures excepting that all the Mola mola seen in our waters are non-breeders. The big ones must be pretty old but none have yet to be found that are sexually mature.
The image above was taken by Chris Fallows and I grabbed it on-line. He must have been in clear water, under water as well, and with a decent camera. This is what an Ocean Sunfish looks like when you are in its habitat; a big fish head with a frilly sort of tail.
We also had a nice pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins. The black eye patch is pretty distinctive though not easily seen in the fast-moving splashing pod, and there are a lot of dolphins that look similar. As a matter of fact dolphins are not easy to identify as they are usually seen only from above and they are all about the same size and generally the same grayish color dorsally. Here in Massachusetts we have the Atlantic White-sided Dolphin and the Common; though range maps show that others can occur here.  The light patterns on the side are helpful but are seen on many species. The Common Dolphin is pretty much world-wide in distribution in warm water, excepting the Indian Ocean. We look for the Common Bottlenose here as well.

OK – now please go and Google NECWA and learn of their activities, interests, and needs. Thank You.

Incidentally, we were on the Privateer IV, a boat operated by 7 Seas Whale Watch in Gloucester, MA and our Captain was terrific (Jay Frontierro)

The next blog page will be from the same day and deal a bit with the Humpback Whales and a few of the sea birds that we came across.

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