An orca was spotted a few miles off Provincetown this week, followed by another sighting on Stellwagen Bank. It has been a while since orcas have been observed here. They spend a lot of time underwater and far from shore, so they aren’t easy to watch. Whether they will stay around remains to be seen. That depends on the food sources available, but if those small bluefin tuna show up again this year like they did at the end of June last summer that could be enough to keep them around.
Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family; they’re highly social and move in pods. They’re also apex predators — meaning they’re at the top of the food chain. They hunt strategically, in packs, and they are the only known predators of great white sharks.
The fin whales have finally moved into the area between Race Point and Herring Cove. We saw two of them while fishing the other day. There are so many mackerel, herring, and sand eels for them to eat right now I see no reason why they wouldn’t stick around. One of the fin whales was the biggest I have seen in quite some time. If you’re at Herring Cove Beach or Race Point, keep an eye offshore for their telltale tall spouts. Fin whales do not lift their tails to dive the way humpbacks do; they simply arch their backs and down they go.
Local oysterman Alex Brown told me that he’s lost a serious proportion of his crop this year. He started noticing a number of dead market-size oysters in his growing bags back in April, and now as he works his grant, culling the oysters for size, he’s discovering the losses are extensive. He called the county, which took samples back to its lab to see if they can determine what is going on. Brown and shellfish constable Steven Wisbauer both say they suspect the late winter deep freeze is the culprit — gardeners know the freeze they’re talking about.
The extreme cold came on the heels of mild winter weather, and Brown thinks the oysters may have come out of dormancy and were pumping along in the springlike weather when the freeze hit, dropping temperatures below zero for a couple of miserable days. Brown said he measured 9 below zero out there.
I am eager to see what the county comes back with. I’m no marine biologist and certainly do not claim to be an expert on this subject, but I worry that the hundreds of seals camped out over there are going to be the oysters’ downfall eventually. But that’s another story.
The bulk of mackerel have thinned out in the harbor and moved up towards Stellwagen Bank, so getting bait is more challenging than it has been. There are still some in the West End of the harbor, but pickings are slim, and it takes a while to get enough to have on hand as striper bait. Other than that, here’s the news you really wanted to hear: the striped bass fishing is ridiculously good right now between Wood End and Race Point.