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.
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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

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.
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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
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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.

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.