Wednesday, April 06, 2005

April 12th Seal Hunt resumes in Newfoundland

I have been heart sick and busy working to prevent the Harp Seal Harvest and so have not written here for a while
The first part of the hunt has been carried out. The second larger hunt will start on April 12th.

These two news sources are from April 4th.
The following articles give a pretty balanced account of the seal "harvests" history and latest news:

Please help stop the "harvest" of 300,000 harp seal pups. Here are some things you can do:
Support the Humane society

Put pressure on the Canadian Government by writing the Bureau of Tourism. Ask how they can possibly promote "ecotourism" (whale watching etc.) while hundreds of thousands of pups are being killed.

The Bureau invites you to contact them please do.

Also Prime Minister Paul Martin has the personal authority to end the seal hunt.
His email address is:

Apparently the price for seal pelts has gone way up since people in Norway, China and Russia consider their fur to be fashionable again. If you have any contact with the "fashion" world could you make your opinions known?

Monday, March 21, 2005

86 8-20 Tusk10

86 8-20 Tusk10
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
We saw Tusk two or three more times in August, always near mothers and calves and usually moving with great determination and speed (for a humpback). He never paid us any attention. Here he is on 8/20/86. There were at least 8-10 humpbacks in one small area .... the northwest edge of Jeffreys (right near the top "finger"). We could recognize four: Sargent #0281 (a young female), Equus and her calf (Tusk's mother) , Notch (not sure of sex) and Tusk. Tusk was moving fast from one group to another with a energy that seemed very characteristic to him. After a while I found I could recognize Tusk just by his way of moving and his tidy muscular dorsal. It had been stormy for several days previous to this one and the seas were rough so it was hard to get good clear photographs and a lot of passengers were very sea-sick so we couldn't stay long. It was so frustrating to have to leave this very interactive group behind

As you can see, the storm passed and the sea calmed by the next day. We decided to go back to the same area where we had left Tusk the day before. On the way out we passed through areas of the Basin which were obviously rich with life. Shearwaters and petrals were in excited clumps on the surface of the water and we encountered a group of over 100 White-sided Dolphin chasing and leaping with exhuberance. The captain could see on the fishfinder that we passed over many areas dense with schooling fish.

We found many of the same whales on exactly the same spot we had left them the day before. Sargent was there again swiming in tandem with a whale named Cygnus #0294 (a male first seen in 1980). Two Minke whales, three Finbacks and 10 or more Alantic Whitesided dolphins were feeding in the same area weaving in and out of each other. At one point a dolphin began "bowriding" a fast moving Finback, perhaps hooking a ride with it from one group of prey to another. Even though Finbacks eat plankton and small fish and dolphins eat large fish... large fish eat small fish and so the food chain winds into a circle.

Just a bit further on we came upon Tusk was with another whale we did not recognize.
86 8-21 Tusk33

86 8-21 Tusk31

86 8-21 Tusk35

Sunday, March 13, 2005

1986 Tusk second sighting 8/13/86

When you look at the photographs, you can see it was a flat calm, hot day with very little wind and visibility for miles! We started seeing whales as soon as we arrived at the north end of : 3-4 Minkes, 5+ Finbacks and several humpback pairs diving together. There was "bait" (fisherman's term for large concentrations of all kinds of sea creatures on the fish finder) all around us. On the west face of there is an area called the fingers, three segments of the ledge that point to the west, here the ledge rises sharply and nutrients from the bottom are swept up by the tides. Fishermen and whales find lots of food here.

First we came on a calf with two adults. One turned out to be FiveJ #0104, known to have a calf that year and the other an accompanying adult. We were curious what the relationship was between FiveJ and this other adult... Was it a male escort (seemed a little early), a sibling of the calf (we couldn't tell since it didn't fluke). FiveJ is on the right diving deeply, the calf is close by her on the left. FiveJ has a very black fluke and there are several other whales with black flukes (probably 200-300!) so the only way to determine this is FiveJ is by carefully following the trailing edge of her fluke which looks like it has been cut with a one of a kind pair of pinking shears.... each whale has a distinct trailing edge but it is not so important on a whale with a distinctly marked tail.
1986 9-28 5J and calf

We didn't even have to move the boat, we just drifted with the tide to the next whale which was Fringe #0159, another mother with her calf. As we were arrived the calf breached once, but it was so unexpected that no one caught it on film. Sometimes it is a blessing when that happens, allowing the experience to enter directly into your eyes and heart without glass and technology filtering it. We moved slowly along with Fringe and her calf even though there were several 3-4 Minkes, at least 2 Finbacks and as many Humpbacks all around us.

Fringe was huge! Females tend to be larger than males and she was impressive the largest Humpback I had ever seen. Fringe had been seen since 1979 and had a calf in 1979,1982,1984 and this 1986 calf (the first three were determined to be male). Since she was seen so often up and down the Gulf of Maine, a profile of her character developed: she didn't interact with boats much, she tended to be a loner during years without a calf. She also had a unique way of filter feeding with the tip of her nose just sticking out as she plowed along near the surface. Her 1979 son imitated her technique.
1986 8/13 Fringe02

Her dorsal fin was very distinctive and like Talon and, to a lesser degree, Tusk it was possible to identify her before she dove and showed her fluke. This was, most likely, one of the reasons she was so well known.
1986 8/13 Fringe01

At one point she turned directly towards the boat... it did not have the warm fuzzy feeling of our encounters with Fissure or Talon. It felt more like she was saying "O.K. that's enough". The captain and I had been surprised by how small her calf was and he was being extra careful to start with. Maybe it was a late calf, born in March just before the whales migrated north rather than a normal January or February birth, or maybe it looked small in comparison to its huge mother. But that was all he needed to know he should let her be. If you go on a whale watch pay attention to how the captain works around the whales.... how much respect he or she gives them.
1986 8/13 Fringe08

We saw the blow of another whale that was in the direction of home and it was getting pretty late so we headed 3/4 of a mile to the west and there was Tusk, by himself but close enough to the clump of females and their calves that we suspected they were all well aware of each other. Humpbacks sing when they are on the breeding grounds, long elaborate songs that change each year and are thought to be sung only by males. If they are capable of such complex sounds for breeding purposes, something like bird songs, then perhaps they also have short chirping calls like birds that keep groups together. I would look out over the huge expanse of water and see a far off boat. At first I felt completely detached and distant from them, but soon realized that the captain was in contact with them all the time, comparing weather impressions, helping each other find fish or... whales, keeping tabs on each other, gossiping, arguing and wondered if the whales weren't doing something similar.

We stayed with Tusk for a while but he was busy feeding and did not approach us so we figured it was time to head home. As you can see from this picture, when we were done we called over the other whale watch boat and went on our way. We may have been competitors but had a strict code of not crowding a whale with too many boats and would often take turns riding along with a whale.

86 8-13 Tusk29

Saturday, March 12, 2005

1986 First sighting of Tusk01 7/1/86 #1

It was a perfect day: calm, clear, a slight breeze the air temperature 73º. The water was still a cold 55º but that is the Gulf of Maine for you, it rarely gets above the low 60's. The cold temperature contributes to the richness of life in the Gulf of Maine, since cold water holds more oxygen allowing the food chain to flourish.

As we crossed the deeper water of Jeffrey's Basin we came upon large groups of Atlantic Whitesided Dolphin. Clumps would break off the larger group and race along, wheeling around us. There were very small ones hugging tight to the side of large adults (their moms). As we travelled along more and more came close to the boat, swooping in from right angles and bowriding. Some would turn on their sides and look right up at us, some would weave back and forth around each other jockeying for the position where the pressure wave had the greatest effect, at times slapping their tails without losing any ground. We were going close to 18 knots, fast for our loaded and solid old boat.... but whenever they chose they could accelerate and leave us in their wake.
86 7-11 AWD05 86 8-5 AWD13

These dolphin were headed in the same general direction we were and when we came upon our first humpback Flask (a mature female with a white fluke), the dolphins were running energetic circles around us and Flask. We were seeing lots of evidence of plankton and fish on the fish sonar. Sometimes the filter feeding whales would be eating the plankton or small easily filtered critters like sandlance or herring in the company of larger fish and the dolphin would be feeding on the larger fish. If the seas were calm you could see all these different critters flitting to the surface to escape predators from below only to be a the mercy of seabirds from above.

As we neared Jeffrey's ledge we could see at least 6 humpbacks in pairs. From their dive patterns it looked like they were feeding and perhaps had paired off to feed cooperatively. We drifted close to this pair
86 7-1Tusk02
The whale on the right would bunch up its tail ready for a deep dive but then slip under without ever showing his fluke. We watched them through 4 dive cycles where they would be down for 2-3 minutes, come up and blow one or two times then dive again. Some people thought they saw either a line (rope) or a white scar on its tail stock and we worried it might be entangled, though we never confirmed it. The other fluked each of the 4 time and when I got hope I checked my whale catalogue and found out it was Tusk.

They were always very close together, so close that at one point they bumped each other as the switched sides, one diving over the top of the other.
86 7-1 Tusk01
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Tusk sightings 1986

Tusk sightings 1986
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.

First draft of Tusk. A young male (7 years old at the time), whose temperament was very different from Talon and Fissure.

At first I didn't trust the quality of my photographs and so tried to do drawings of Tusks fluke and his dorsal.
Tusk drawing 86 7-1 Tusk01

The photographs show the same marks.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

End of Talon's Story

Humpback whale jawbone
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Talon's story did not have a happy ending. During the winter of 1987-1988 one humpback after another washed ashore, many of them on Cape Cod. By January 14 were found: Talon was one of them and Beltane another. It was a horrible two months for me it must have been a nightmare for researchers who had know these whales since they were born.

Talon's calf was seen the next summer in the Gulf of Maine so at least he survived for through the winter and following spring without her.

It was not certain what had caused so many deaths during the fall and winter. Some whales were fresh enough to autopsy and herring with high concentrations of red tide in their livers were found in the whale stomach.

Talon may have fed on those herring too in effort to regain her body fat from a summer of nursing a hungry calf. She would need it for the long migration to the Carribean and lean winter there without feeding.

This photograph is not of Talon but of a female that died only 2 years ago. Many whales were found floating at sea and a few came ashore. Their bodies were so decayed that the cause of death could not be determined, but red tide was a primary suspect.

Red tide is naturally occuring but it particularl thrives on pollution we release into the ocean from our rivers. As well as feeling enormous sadness for the loss of these whales (some of them "friends"), I also feel responsible to them. I hope by telling their story that I can encourage people to get involved in protecting and restoring our oceans.

Monday, February 21, 2005

1987 Second sighting of Talon 8/10/87 #3

87 8-10 Taloncalf02
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Forty five minutes later Talon and her calf finally arrived and joined the gang. The calf immediately settled into to rolling and flipperslapping.

Our boat could go 10 knots easily (18 with some serious strain) while a humpback can't move much more than 4 knots. With her calf in tow, I am sure Talon could only poke along. So it wasn't surprising it had taken so long.

All the while we had been watching Beltane, Tusk and Silver, another whale breached repeatedly not far off. We wondered if that had drawn Talon to this group.

This had been a very busy trip. There was lots to watch but no close encounters since the whales were busy with their own social interactions. When Talon dove and we were sure of the locations of her calf, we left the with lots to process on the way home.
87 8-10 Talon03
It was the last time I was to see her.

1987 Second sighting of Talon 8/10/87 #2

We left Talon and her calf behind as we moved north towards the other humpbacks, but watching off our stern, I could see that they were coming along slowly behind us. When we arrived we found a fascinating congregation of four whales. First there was Tusk and Beltane who were close together breathing and diving in sync. Both whales were young adults (the same generation as Talon).

Tusk was male and had been see as a calf with his mother Equus in 1979 making him an eight year old that year. He seemed to think of himself anyway as a fully mature male, even though eight seemed young to take on the older males.
86 7-1 Tusk01

Beltane was a female who had been born in 1980, she had had a calf in 1985 (young for a whale). Twice, Tusk broke away from Beltane and dove under our boat from bow to stern. It was hard to determines what he was doing but it seemed like he was asserting territory at the very least.... we stood back at a respectable distance.

[Beltane's fluke shot coming soon]

It is not clear why Tusk and Beltane were together. North Atlantic Humpbacks are thought to mate in the Caribbean, that is where males sing their beautiful songs. Were these two engaged in some sort of foreplay?

Another very interesting association came to ligt when I got home, sorted out all the fluke shots and called Allied Whale to get background information about the whales we saw that day. A very distinctive whale (it was missing a good part of its left fluke), hanging out nearby in the company of a forth whale (who never fluked) turned out to be Silver, Beltane's mother!
1987 10/1 Silver

These pictures were taken of Silver on 10/1/87 the last trip of the season when she was most likely headed south for the winter. She was obviously full of vigor, even seemed to be enjoying the turmoluous seas.... a whole lot more than some people on the boat.
1987 10-1 Silver29a

And here she is slipping under the surface of the water where it was much calmer.
1987 10-1 Silver31