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Humpback whale underwater

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Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

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Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

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Boto © Fernando Trujillo

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Orcas at the seabed

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First few weeks as an intern

Written By: Stephanie Wrobel

It’s been a bit over two weeks now that I’ve been interning with WDC and so much has happened that it feels like it should be a lot longer. Before I came here I’d never seen humpback whales before, but due to studying in Australia I guess I always had a picture of the Pacific humpback whales in my head. I quickly learned how many differences there are between the populations in the Atlantic and Pacific such as the different flipper coloration or the fact that only the population here shows the kick-feeding behavior.

After just a couple of days learning all the basics in the office I was lucky enough to go out on the Hyannis Whale Watcher, a Whale SENSE participating company, and see humpback whales for the first time. It definitely exceeded the expectation I had for the first trip. Not only did I get to see several different individuals on that first day but on one sighting we saw a humpback whale named Glostick and her calf. While that alone would have already been amazing, the calf was very playful and started breaching and coming close to the boat. Needless to say, that I was as excited as all the visitors on the boat. Later that day I also got to see Dyad open-mouth feeding and kick-feeding. While we “only” saw about six different humpbacks, some finbacks and a couple minke whales that day, it was enough to sometimes let me forget that I was there to collect data not to simply admire those beautiful animals. 

humpback whale calf breaching

Since that first day I’ve been out on the boat a few more times and I can’t believe how different every day can be. Last Friday was a very exciting day as we saw Mudskipper with her new calf for the first time. For a while we weren’t sure who it was as Mudskipper apparently does not like to show the underside of her fluke (where the unique pigment pattern is), and it seems she’s teaching her calf the same habit. So while we mainly saw the same 3-4 humpback whales over the last weekend (Freckles, Mogul, Mudskipper and her calf) it was unbelievable how active the finback whales have been. There were a lot of bait patches around and on several occasions we found ourselves surrounded by lunge-feeding finback whales. It is such an amazing sight to see those whales feeding and really makes you appreciate them even more.

There have been plenty of days that I didn’t spend on the boat though and I learned several different things about what else is done, besides the data collection. In my second week I had the pleasure of meeting Delilah, the life size inflatable North Atlantic right whale, when Monica gave a talk for younger kids at the library here in Plymouth. It was great to see how many kids are still so excited and interested about whales. Interacting with the people there and at the boat is always really interesting and a lot of fun, as it’s not only great to share what I know with them but also often prompts me to look up questions that I wasn’t able to answer as fully as I would have liked to, making me learn something new every few days.