No matter where you happen to live, it is very useful for your ecological perspective to go somewhere else for at least a brief period. It is surprising how one can become jaded and accept some amazing things as commonplace. For example a rare bird becomes a “trash” bird within a fairly short time after it is first seen.
So in this spirit my wife and I took a birding tour of Atlantic Canada, last week and were truly amazed not only by the beauty of the surroundings on Grand Manan Island (just across the border of Maine and New Brunswick), but by the remarkable creatures that the locals consider commonplace. The focus for visitors there is on the truly remarkable scenery and marine birds and mammals. So we took several boat tours in the Bay of Fundy, which is famous for its enormously variable tides, and observed the unusual and fascinating object shown in the attached photo first at a distance in binoculars. At long range there was considerable speculation about what this strange object was- can you identify it? On closer approach it became very clear that this was the flipper of a whale and that we were observing an interesting interaction among three very lively humpbacks. They were likely all males, who were in close proximity and continually slapped their flukes and flippers against the water for more than 30 minutes. The nature of this grouping is unclear, whether for territorial or sexual displays, but it was truly awesome. Indeed one of the whales was a male nicknamed “Quixote” by local whale-watchers, because on the right underside of its fluke there is a black form that resembles a man on horseback (see photo). This illustrates a common and very useful way of identifying many sorts of animals by their individual differences in pattern.
Humpbacks undergo long distance migrations between tropical and polar oceans and are most famous for their vocalizations or “songs.” They emit extremely long and repeated vocal sets which can only be considered a very unusual and rather sophisticated form of communication. Such underwater sounds can be transmitted over long distances and could obviously serve to keep whales in touch even when far apart. Interestingly the US Navy had a very similar means of communication with its world-wide submarine fleet along the nearby Maine coast using very low frequency sounds.
So once again we find that nature is interesting, amazing and somewhat inscrutable!
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA