On Wednesday morning at around 9:30 AM, Ken Shwartz and Jerry Coholon were about two thirds of the way from Mattapoisett to Woods Hole when they sighted something a bit larger than any fish they might be looking for: a whale.
It was, to be more precise, a fin , or finback, whale, which they later learned from Scott Landry, who is the director of the Marine Mammal Entanglement Response, which is part of the Center for Coastal Studies.
This species is the second largest whale on earth, trailing only the blue whale, and is an endangered species because it was heavily hunted in the 20th century.
From the photos and video they sent Scott, he estimated that the whale was about 70-feet long and he expressed concern that the whale was in a weakened state because he could see its spine.
Like so many of us who live on the Cape and surrounding areas and are most familiar with right, humpback, and minke whales that typically feed on plankton and sand eels, Ken told me he was surprised when Scott told them that the whale they saw was probably in Buzzards Bay feeding on the large concentrations of schooling baitfish there.
We typically think of whales as slow moving, lumbering creatures, but according to Scott, the fin is the fastest whale in the ocean and can swim up to 20 knots. In fact, according to Wikipedia, in 1916 “American naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews called the fin whale ‘the greyhound of the sea … for its beautiful, slender body is built like a racing yacht and the animal can surpass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship.’”
Ken emphasized that Scott would appreciate us reporting the whale sighting on Salty Cape and he recommended including his phone number (800-900-3622) and his email (firstname.lastname@example.org) in case people wanted to report an entanglement.
Scott added that it would be good to mention to boaters to be on the lookout for Leatherback sea turtles as there have been a lot of lobster pot entanglements recently.
Along with the Marine Mammal Entanglement Response, sightings of entangled marine mammals can also be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.
Notifying the Coast Guard of any sighting of any marine mammal and providing GPS coordinates and general location will allow them to relay information to mariners in order to advise them and lessen the chance of a vessel strike.