21 August 2011

Whales of Newfoundland (part 5)

Minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata (NL: dwergvinvis)

A blog means regular posts, lazy bastard! Uh yes, sorry. I am really getting behind. I have been diving at Bonaire in January, (Northern) Ireland in July and the Netherlands from April till now and still I'm posting about Newfoundland 2010. So again: sorry.
My wife and I were lured to Newfoundland by the prospect of seeing whales in close proximity. Paul Dolk (see my post of december 25) told me in 2009 about a group of humpback whales that stayed in 'their' bay for two weeks. As close by as they could touch them in their boat.

We were not that lucky. We made several trips with Paul and Sandra, but all we saw was a glimpse of a fin whale about 100 m away.

So in the last week of our visit we made three whaling trips with Sea of Whales Adventures, owned by Kris and Shawna Prince.
It was a wonderfull experience: two quite rocky trips riding the waves and one with a dead calm sea. You still have to be lucky to see the whales from nearby, as we experienced. But no more complaining. Here are a few photo's I took. For really excellent whale pictures have a look at Paul Dolk's site here.
A blowing fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus (NL: gewone vinvis). As you can sea they are swimming at close distance from the coast. Kris recognizes whale-species by the shape of their blows.
He called them the greyhounds of the sea, because they are such agile and fast swimmers.
You just can't imagine what's down below: in this picture of a fin whale you see just 25% of the upper part of the animal! The largest fin whale ever found, measured 27 m (R. Wandrey, 2001).
The dorsal fin of individual specimens is easily identifiable, anyway for the specialists. And especially this one with its gnarled fin. He crashed in a propeller, got entangled in a fishing net or was bitten by a killer whale. Your guess is as good as mine. Kris has seen this fin whale before. He and others keep record of the whales they encounter. He showed us a list with pictures and names of frequently sighted whales.
Shawna told us that fin whales and blue whales are that rare that they mate with each other. And the offspring is able to reproduce!
Usually fin whales dive down gradually, so it is quite rare to see its fintail. Kris told me I was very lucky to have a shot!
The minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata (NL: dwergvinvis) is a lot smaller: up to 10 m (R. Wandrey, 2001).
Not sure where the whales will show up? Look for circling gulls and other birds, who betray surfacing whales.
White beaked dolphin, Lagenorhynchus albirostris (NL: witsnuitdolfijn). Unfortunateley they weren't in a playful mood.
The humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae (NL: bultrug).
We saw them breach - jumping out of the water - several times, but too far too quick too soon.
After the breach...
This is why the whales are coming near the coast: to catch mouthfulls of capelin, Mallotus villosus (NL: lodde). Capelin jump on the sandy beaches and dig themselves in to spawn.

A lot of capelin is catched - I heard - especially for the Japanese market. The Japanese only want the female capelin and the males are just thrown away. If it's true it is a crime against nature. Eat them, sell them, make catfood out of them, but don't kill animals for nothing. Ofcourse it is the livelihood of a lot of people, but so is tourism and what about sustainability?
Whales are not the only creatures waiting for easy prey. It is also an easy pick for bald eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus (NL: Amerikaanse zeearend). Near Trinity we counted 22 bald eagles in approximately 150 m!
A young bald eagle is even bigger than its parents. Not as beautiful as an adult, but doesn't he look aggresive.
Capelin is just too easy to catch. This one wasn't hunting for capelin, but for bait we threw in the water.