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, September 1, 2013

Sept 1, Captain's Lady III

Welcome September! And welcome back humpback whales!! It has been a very long time since we have seen humpback whales closer than 30 miles from Newburyport. Today, thanks to the teamwork of whale watching boats from Boston, MA to Rye, NH we saw a pair on southern Jeffreys Ledge and only about 17 miles away! The fog held off and we watched these whales for nearly an hour.

The pair was familiar but certainly not whales that are common visitors to Jeffreys Ledge. One was Pina, a female first seen in 1990. Pina has been seen in our area sporadically- in 1996, 2009 and 2012. The whale traveling with Pina was another female, Pepper! Pepper is one of the longest-documented humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine! She was first documented in 1976, hanging out with her friend, Salt!  Salt and Pepper were the first 2 humpbacks to be given names, and as neither are regular visitors to our area, it made this sighting even more special. Pepper has only been documented once before in our area- in late Sept 2008.
Humpback Whale, Pepper
Humpback Whale, Pina
 The pair was moving slowly to the NW, taking short dives and moving in sync. At one point, Pepper decided to flipper slap, the technical term for when a whale slaps its flipper on the surface. I never said scientists were creative... She did this 12 times (thanks to the excellent data collecting skills of our intern/volunteer Alicia) giving us all the opportunity to check out her huge, 1-ton flipper.
Pina diving, and Pepper slapping

Pepper's huge, 15-ft long flipper

As we awaited the pair to come back up for air, a harbor seal popped up nearby, and just as quickly, it disappeared back into the sea.

As we watched the humpback whales, we couldn't help but notice some fishing gear (buoys) in the area, very close to where Pepper was slapping. Entanglements in fishing gear is a notorious problem for all species of whales and the vast majority of humpbacks in the Gulf of Maine have scars from prior entanglements...and those are the lucky ones that survived. Even though the local fisheries are required to abide by certain regulations to ensure their gear is as safe for whales as the government mandates, the entanglements, injuries and deaths still occur. As I mentioned, one thing you can do to help the whales is to know where your seafood comes from, how it is caught and what other animals are put at risk or even killed to get that food to your table. Your dining choices are crucial in the protection of our endangered whales.
 As we watched Pepper glide by the buoys, we all breathed a sigh of relief that she managed to avoid this risk.  We also noticed many other whale watching boats in the area to see these whales too. Humpback whales have been rare for all areas between Bar Harbor and Provincetown this summer. We don't know why but it seems whales throughout the Gulf of Maine have a different agenda this summer. Even the research teams that study critically endangered right whales in the Bay of Fundy have seen very few right whales in that area. It certainly has been a strange season but we are looking forward to what the fall brings!

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