Blue Ocean Society's Whale Sightings

Greetings! Thanks for visiting our blog. Our staff and interns will be posting their experiences here working on whale watch boats in NH and MA.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 25 Prince of Whales

Today was amazing! It was unlike anything I have seen in a long time. So many whales, four different species, all in the same place! Both trips were incredible.

On the morning trip, we were joined by a group of birders from Mass Audubon. We were searching for birds as well as marine mammals. The conditions were excellent- perfectly calm. We found a large group of harbor porpoises close to shore, but as porpoises are not all that friendly, we had difficulties getting near them so we continued on. As we approached the Ledge, we spotted not only blows of whales all over the place, but also lots of large splashes as whales were jumping out of the water and slapping their flippers on the surface! At one point, as we were coming in, 2 whales breached at the same time! Of course when we arrived, the activity slowed down but this is always still fun to see, even from a distance. Now that the activity stopped, we had to decide which animals to check out since there were so many- singles, pairs, trios, big groups....humpback whales, fin whales, dolphins, minke whales.....

We began with a couple of lone humpbacks. The first was Blitzen, the 2005 calf of Pina (who was seen yesterday!) and the second was Tusk, a 33+ year old male. 
Next, we picked up a pair of humpbacks- Clipper and Bolide (both adult females). Neither fluked  but thankfully they both have distinctive dorsal fins making their ID relatively easy.

We sat and observed our surroundings for a bit, trying to see what else was around us. We saw some small splashes and tall blows to the south. On approach, I realized that not only was this group made up of 2 species, dolphins and fin whales, but there were MANY fin whales in the group! Ladder stood out almost immediately with his notched fin and propeller scar on his side. Another old friend, also with propeller scars, surfaced near Ladder. At least 5 more fin whales were in this group. And don't forget the dolphins that were jumping next to and in front of these huge whales! It was crazy! Nearly 500 tons of whale were right next to us, all lined up in a "pod". This sort of grouping rarely happens in our area- maybe once every few years. It was completely incredible and humbling. 
Fin whales and dolphins
Three fin whales
Ladder, the fin whale

Dolphins "chasing" fin whales
But to make it even more insane, the humpback whales, Clipper and Bolide, decided to join the fun and came swimming through, and of course the minke whales were darting all over the place! I don't even know what to say about this event other than it was really unlike anything I have seen.

As we still had some time to continue our trip, we backtracked a bit and relocated a trio of humpback whales, but not before passing another single on the way. 

Perseid, Vally and Fulcrum
The trio included our good friend Valley (favorite whale of our first mate Ryan), Fulcrum and Perseid- all adult females. Fulcrum and Valley are both easy to ID from their dorsal areas. Valley has just a hump of a dorsal fin, and Fulcrum's fin was mangled when she was hit by a boat several years ago. These 3 were pretty slow-moving and mellow which was a nice change from the exuberant activity of the fin whales and dolphins.

Now it was really time to go since we had another trip departing in the afternoon. Oh, and we can't forget the birds of the day. Our totals were: 
89 red necked phalaropes
1 red phalarope
30 surf scoters
12 northern gannets
25 Wilson's storm petrels
2 sooty shearwaters
13 great shearwaters
1 pomerine jaeger
30 cormorants
1 great blue heron
1 black tern 
1 razorbill

As we boarded the afternoon trip, I was excited to return to the Ledge to find those whales again, but I knew we wouldn't see the group of fin whales and dolphins again. That sighting was so rare and so awesome, it just couldn't be duplicated. Heading to the Ledge, we passed by harbor porpoises, harbor seals and even a minke whale. 

Arriving at the Ledge, we spotted tails here and there, and then some tall blows and small splashes. The dolphins and at least some fin whales were still here AND still together! The difference during this trip was that it was now sunny and we could see those bright white lower jaws of the fin whales glowing beneath the surface. At one point, we saw 5 whales all in a line! Ladder was in the group, of course, and he and a buddy decided to come over to us and spout pretty much right under us! And the whale I am now calling Zipper (due to the small propeller scars down his spine) was showing us his unique markings. #0834 was seen again (distinct due to its deep scar) and a few more were in the pack that we have yet to ID. The group appeared to be the same as the morning but we also found an additional whale that wasn't seen during the morning, # 0308! 

Fin whale with dolphins
I wanted to stay with these whales and dolphins all afternoon but we had to move on and check out the humpbacks that were in the area. The first was Tusk, also seen during the morning trip, and the second was Ebony, a female seen prior this season. I must admit that watching "typical whale behavior" was a bit of a let down after being spoiled by the fin whales!

On the ride home, I was thinking about why all these whales were here, and why the fin whales were all bunched up. The easy reason would be food. Tons of fish much have been there to attract so many whales. But we didn't really see much bait on our fish-finder. Could there be another reason? Was it a social event? A meeting of the species??  If only these large animals lived on land and we could watch their every movement. Alas, they live in the ocean and we are only witnessing a small fraction of their lives when they come to the surface to breathe. 

After such an amazing day, I was also a bit conflicted. Many of the whales we watched had scars from boat propellers. Ladder, Fulcrum, Zipper and #0834. Ebony has a scar that may have been caused by a boat, and also bares entanglement scars. Fulcrum has been entangled in the past as well. Tusk's flukes are damaged, likely due to entanglement. Valley's lack of dorsal fin- is this natural or was she injured at a young age? Clipper's "clipped" fin may have been human-related as well. The threats to these endangered whales are real and we may only see a fraction of the issues they face. We try our best to keep them safe but the world is not a perfect place, for whales or for us. If you want to make a difference, donate to your favorite environmental organization or join us on a beach cleanup. A little goes a long way, and if many of you help out, we can make the oceans a safer place for all marine life. 

Fin whale #0308

Fin whale #9621 "Zipper"

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1 comment:

Suzanne Elsasser said...

My husband, daughter, and I were on the morning trip - the first whale watching trip for all of us. It was an incredible delight.