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.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The best season yet!

After ending our whale watching trips a few weeks back, I have been hard at work analyzing data and ID'ing whale photos from the three boats that collect data for us.

Although the fin whale ID process is still underway, the humpback whales are nearly finished. As to date, we have seen 75 individual adult humpbacks, and 3 calves! As a comparison, last year we saw 72 adults and 6 calves, but humbacks were "only" seen on half of the 2008 whale watch trips. This year, we found humpbacks on about 73% of the trips! This just shows that the whales we did see spent more time on Jeffreys Ledge than they have in the past. The humpback who is winning the sighting record race is Tigris- a male humpback who was seen consistantly from July 4 through Sept 13!

For the finback whales, we have currently identified 23 individuals who were seen in previous seasons. Our buddy, Fjord, was the most sighted fin whale so far. He was consistantly seen from our first trip on May 17 through late-August!

The data process will continue through the winter so stay tuned for more updates!

Thanks to all the whale watch companies, crews, interns and volunteers for making the 2009 season one to remember! See you next spring!

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

2009 Granite State Season a Success!

Our whale watch season has come to a close and for most of us it will be a long winter before we get the chance to venture back to Jeffreys but by no means had the whales already left the area during our last trip. The season ended with some great sightings including Fin whales and Harbor porpoise. To see both baleen and toothed whales on our last cruise for the 2009 season was a great way to wrap up such a memorable season for the Granite State. For those of you that joined us this year we thank you and look forward to seeing you again next season. A special thanks to all the many friends, family and "regulars" who joined us for our last journey to Jeffreys Ledge. See you again in May as we all anxiously anticipate what 2010 will bring to the Ledge and life out on the open ocean.

From all of us on the Granite State thank you!

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday, Oct 10 on the Prince of Whales

Today far exceeded my expectations! The wind was blowing, the seas were building, but Jeffreys Ledge provided yet again for us. We encountered three species today: a young humpback whale, three fin whales, and two groups of Atlantic white sided dolphins!

The young humpback is the 2005 calf of Scylla. As of now, I don't think this whale has a name yet but we are still awaiting some more information. We saw this whale during its calf year, in 2005, when Scylla brought it to Jeffreys Ledge to learn how to feed!
We moved offshore and found a very rare sight! A fin whale surfaced after a long, 10+ minute dive. It was right along side our boat, showing us all the parts of a fin whale we usually see: blow, chevron, back and dorsal fin. But then the whale must have been taking lessons from the humpback because it lifted its tail completely out of the water!! This is a very unusual sighting! Fin whales don't normally lift their flukes up when going down for a dive simply because they don't have to. It is said that fin whales only lift their tail once in every 20,000 dives! Our lucky passengers had a once-in-a-lifetime experience today!! Absolutely beautiful!!


As we tried to keep up with this unique whale, we encountered another fin whale that was being
escorted by a small group of Atlantic white sided dolphins! What a surprise to find the dolphins right along side the huge whale! This particular fin whale had a small scar behind its fin, on the area just ahead of the tail- evidence that it was recently entangled. Fortunately, this whale escaped with just a scar. Other whales aren't always so lucky.

What a fantastic day on the ocean! Tomorrow is sadly our last trip of the season. Last chance to see some amazing whales!

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A Pleasant Surprise

Today aboard the Granite State I must say I was not super excited to head out to look for whales. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but the wind forecast was not calling for it to be a good day. However, much to our surprise this morning, there was barely any wind and we were going to try to squeeze the trip in between the rain showers and the gusty wind scheduled for the day. Well we did just that and it was well worth the chance. The wind began to blow, as all of our passengers felt on our way back to the harbor, but we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of activity we came across during our whale watch and well as the delay of the onset of wind.

Our sightings began rather close to the Isles of Shoals when we spotted a Minke whale a mile outside of the islands. We got a few quick glimpses of this whale and then choose to continue on our way since we were still quite inshore. Thanks to the help of our other whale watching friends aboard the Prince of Whales, we were informed they had another species for us to check out. On our way towards the area we passed by at least 6 different Harbor porpoise that were cruising by our starboard side. Once we got close to the Prince of Whales turns out we had a Humpback whale close by. We did a preliminary check for potential identification of this particular animal but so far no go. We will continue to look through more photographs to hopefully match up this juvenile animal that gave us quite the show. At least six times this whale came up with it's pleats extended filtering out massive amounts of saltwater. This animal was doing some subsurface feeding and gave us some great looks as this whale came up nose first multiple times. Of course as soon as we have a positive ID on this critter we will let you all know. UPDATE: This whale is the 2005 calf of Scylla!!!

We also found two Fin whales doing a bit of travelling once we left the Humpback whale which gave our passengers a great comparison of sizes between a "small" Humpback whale and the 2nd largest animal in the world! The trip wasn't over quite yet when we ended up close by the Prince of Whales again as we both watched a small pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins travelling just in front of another Fin whale! Here is a photo of the Fin whale as it goes on a deeper dive.Very rarely do we see two such different species of whales interact in this manner but I love when we get the chance. To have both toothed whales and baleen whales coexisting so seamlessly together amazes me every time. It was a great way to wrap up a fantastic trip.

Tomorrow we head out one last time for the 2009 season. I can't believe it is just about over but am looking forward to having the opportunity to watch whales out on Jeffreys Ledge for one more afternoon. Hope you come join us as well!

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tuesday on the Granite State

We ventured out towards Jeffreys Ledge yesterday with a group of kids from Somersworth. We were pleasantly surprised to find some large animals closer inshore than we've recently been encountering. Even before we began to see blows from whales on the horizon a group of Harbor porpoise was spotted close by the boat and gave everyone a chance to see some toothed whales before finding the larger baleen whales.

As for the baleen whales we ended up seeing 3 different Fin whales during our trip. The first whale was spending the majority if it's time underneath the water making whale watching not the easiest of tasks. Then again the whales do what they want to do whenever they want to do it so we are the ones that are at the mercy of whales, not the other way around. As we were waiting for the animal to resurface we kept seeing another exhalation from a different whale a few miles away. We decided to maneuver towards that direction and see if perhaps this other whale was being more "cooperative" for all of us aboard the boat.

As we zoned in on the area where this other whale was, it turned out we actually had two different Fin whales in this vicinity. We spent our time with one of the whales that was surfacing a bit more often and got some incredible looks at the 2nd largest animal in the world! During one surfacing the whale remained right alongside the boat giving everyone the chance to see the entire length of this animal and the brilliance of it's white lower jaw and chevron pattern right next to us. Definitely about as amazing of a look you can ever get from these massive creatures.

Thanks again to all of you from Somersworth for spending your afternoon with us and helping to point out all of the activity we had during our trip. Just a few days left of our 2009 season, can't believe just how quickly time goes by sometimes. Hope to see you out this weekend!

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Still Going Strong on the Granite State

As we quickly approach the ending to another whale watch season the whales have by no means slowed down in terms of our sightings. While it seems as though the whales have recently been seen further offshore, closer to the Ledge, we still have continued to see lots of activity. Recent sightings include lots of Fin whales, some days well over 7 different "greyhounds of the seas," Ocean Sunfish, pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphins, Harbor porpoise, a Humpback whale still unidentified and even a Basking shark.

With one more week left to go for our 2009 season we are keeping our fingers crossed that the weather cooperates and we get a chance to explore Jeffreys Ledge as much as possible before we all must wait for May to arrive. Now that it is October there is a definite chill in the air out on the ocean so bring lots of warm gear and come spend the afternoon with us in search of marine animals of all sorts!

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sept 26 on the Prince of Whales

What a beautiful day today! Fall is my favorite time to go whale watching as we never know what to expect from week to week. Today we were graced by a trio of finback whales. These whales were doing 8-10 minute dives but not moving too far in between so we could get some great looks!
Trio of finback whales
One finback whale

Two finback whales!

On our way back in, after a fabulous close last look at the finbacks, we did see a humpback whale briefly. It was taking longer dives and resurfaced a bit of a distance away so we were not able to tell which humpback whale it was. The image below shows the distinctive lumpy "hump"back's back and fin.

Thanks to all the adventurous folks who braved the chilly temps today!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday, Sept 21 on the Prince of Whales

After a trying weekend of whale watching, we were rewarded with a gorgeous day on the water and were treated to lots of sightings! We began the trip with a fabulous look at the largest species of bony fish in the world- an ocean sunfish (also called the Mola mola). Although from a distance, this fish may somewhat resemble a sea turtle, upon close inspection, one can see it is distinctively a fish!

Ocean sunfish

As we made our way towards Jeffreys Ledge, we passed by a couple of minke whales and some small groups of harbor porpoises. In the deep water (500 feet) just before the shallow ledge, we found literally tons of whales! Fin whales were seen in every direction, and two humpback whales were scooting about as well.

Of the fin whales we saw closely, none of them have been seen yet this season. Notice the two very differently shaped dorsal fins below:

We also found a fin whale that had lost its dorsal fin! We will have to search the master catalog in Bar Harbor to determine if this whale has been seen before without its fin, or if recently lost it.

For the humpback whales, the first one was pretty sleepy- just surfacing once and then sinking a bit under water for several minutes before taking another breath. We aren't sure who this youngster is but will hopefully find out soon.

Another larger humpback surprised us and came up very close by as we were waiting for a fin whale to surface. Who was this curious friend? Flask!! Flask is our buddy- one of our adoptable whales and our unofficial mascot (his tail adorns the back of our t-shirts and sweatshirts). Flask was first seen in 1982, though we do not know how old he is. Flask was blowing some bubbles deep below the surface, a technique used by humpback whales to corral their prey.

Flask's distinctive tail!

Our trek back to Newburyport was busy as well as we passed by several more fin whales and pods of harbor porpoises. Thanks to the curious group of students from Philips Exeter Academy, and the adventurous group of seniors who made this trip a success.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday on the Prince of Whales- Newburyport

Finally, a beautiful day on the ocean! Saturday's trip was a bit choppy to say the least and sightings were minimal due to the sea state, but today was lovely!

We started with a group of Atlantic white sided dolphins- at least 50 of them! These dolphins were great- staying close to the boat giving us great looks.

As we ventured off shore, we found at least 6 fin whales in the area. The whales were feeding deep- at least 500 feet down, and were only coming up for a couple quick breaths before going right back down to feed.
We did get a great look at one fin whale, as it surfaced near by. Sadly, our best look at this whale was when it altered its course directly towards us, and then along our side in order to avoid a collision with a sport boat that was cutting it off, and moving at a high speed.
Fin whale chevron pattern. Check out the flipper under water!

Un Reel, moving very fast directly at the fin whale

Un Reel continuing to race around the whales

Another fin whale that was hit by a small boat- notice the propeller scars that have now healed.

Collisions with boats is a major threat to all whales. Some whales manage to escape with just a scar- others aren't nearly as lucky. Dangerous boating behavior like we saw today from Un Reel needs to be reported and law enforcement needs to correct this problem. Education is the first step. If you know of any boaters who seek whales, be sure they are aware of the whale watching guidelines, and know that harassing a whale (any thing that alters the behavior of a whale) is illegal.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Today aboard the Granite State

Now that we are on our Fall Schedule for whale watching sometimes it feels as though so much time passes in between our trips. Of course it also doesn't help when the weather on the days we are scheduled to go doesn't seem to want to cooperate. Nonetheless, we headed out of Rye Harbor today and were pleasantly surprised with our findings.

The wind created quite an adventure for all our passengers, some getting a bit more wet than others, but with smiling faces our trip was a success. Our travels brought us to an area inshore of Jeffreys Ledge where we found 6 different Fin whales, Bluefin Tuna, and 3 different Ocean Sunfish. Most of the whales were circling around the area as we watched them maneuver through the ocean with ease. We even got a chance to see one Fin whale charge after a group of schooling fish.

This particular whale surfaced and then turned 90 degrees almost instantaneously, rolling on it's side, with it's mouth wide open. Moments later we witnessed the same animal scoop up another large group of fish that both Bluefin Tuna and pelagic birds were chomping down on. It was such a quick moment and yet there was so much going on for that split second in time. Almost an organized chaos of fish grouping up, larger fish taking food from the bottom, underwater layer, birds picking off the food at the surface and then an enormous whale shoving all other creatures aside in order to capture most everything else!!!

It just amazes me how intricate the bond of life is out in the ocean and and when we get a chance to witness this mesh really just reaffirms how important it is to help maintain and conserve this vast area of the earth. Life on land depends on the sea and vice versa which is why we need to do all that we can to keep this bond alive.

Thanks to all of our passengers who joined us and got a chance to share in the excitement of our day. Great questions from our group from Colby Sawyer and I truly enjoyed chatting with everyone on our ride in today. Thank you all and hope to see you again soon!

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Monday, September 14, 2009


All of us aboard the Granite State yesterday morning were quite anxious to get back out to the open ocean and once again go in search of whales. Our last trip had been on Tuesday and knowing a large chunk of time had passed we were very interested to see what we might, or might not, find leaving Rye Harbor.

Our morning trip took us straight out to Jeffreys Ledge before we spotted any large mammals. Of course getting out to the ledge we passed by 4 different Ocean Sunfish (7 in total for the trip!) and got some close looks at one of them. They are one of the most bizarre creatures I've ever seen and was great to see so many in one trip. We realized during this single trip we had more sightings of Mola mola's than we have seen throughout the entire season thus far.

We came across a single Fin whale that was only coming up for a breath or two before diving back down when we spotted lots of splashing in the distance. A pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins! With around 75 of these whales swimming together we got some great looks before we then spotted some other, much larger, splashes in the distance. So off we went!

Once we got close we saw one. . . wait two. . . . wait 3 Fin whales actively feeding! But it wasn't just Fin whales we had. There were lots of Shearwaters and Bluefin tuna splashing all about going after all the schooling fish, which the whales were also ultimately going for. What a show. A few instances you suddenly saw tons of fish jumping out of the surface and within a matter of moments an enormous mouth wide open just scooping up all the fish. To make things even more crazy, during one surfacing ALL 3 Fin whales were simultaneously open mouth feeding together! I thought seeing two 60+ ton Fin whales doing this was spectacular, but 3?!?!?! Oh my goodness. These pictures barely do the sighting justice but can you see just how much food was in the area for these whales? All those shiny things in the photos are fish!

What a morning. It was even better knowing that we had another trip to spend in the beautiful weather and go in search of more animals. We actually ended up a bit inshore from Jeffreys Ledge during our afternoon trip when we first spotted a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. This particular group had around 60 dolphins and a large number of greater shearwaters and common terns following the pod. As we spent time with this group we began to see exhalations from some large whales a few miles away.

Turns out we ended up being surrounded by a dozen Fin whales in the area. We got some awesome looks at a few of these mammals when a couple of them surfaced alongside the boat. As we were enjoying the fin whales we noticed a very unique, and very familiar, dorsal fin. It was Tigris, the Humpback whale.

WOW! Tigris apparently had a mission of it's own today. Not once, but twice this whale spent ample time checking out the ENTIRE haul of our boat! The whale ever so slowly would surface and just position itself right next to the boat. After spending several minutes on one side it would go under the boat and position itself on the other side right next to the boat. The humpback whale spent some time at the bow and stern pretty much spending some quality time at every angle of the boat. Wow, did our passengers have a close encounter! Maybe this whale decided it was time to watch us humans, as opposed to us humans going out to watch these animals.

Tigris held us hostage but no one seemed to mind. An event many many people very rarely encounter but rarely forget. The most interesting part people seemed to be amazed at was the fact that we literally have seen this whale over a dozen times this year and yet we have never seen this behavior from this animal before. Needless to say our crew was just as ecstatic as all the passengers.

As much fun as it was to spend some amazing quality time with Tigris it is just as important to reiterate the fact that we have no control over these wild animals we go in search for. It was Tigris who decided to do what it did as we just happened to be the lucky ones to experience it. Any and all of these whales can do whatever they want at any time which is why this field is so exciting, anything is possible.

A special thanks having some special guests on board this afternoon. It was great seeing some family and friends and I hope everyone on board today left with some very special memories.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Grand Slam on the Atlantic Queen Sunday

Today started out a little slow, as it seemed like we were searching for marine life for awhile. But then we spotted a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. They were doing so much splashing at the surface that we could see them from a good distance away. Once we got into the pod of about 100-150 dolphins, there was lots of activity - dolphins charging through the water, and a number of seabirds (including greater shearwaters and gannets) plunging in to get the leftovers! It was an exciting way to start the trip!

Atlantic white-sided dolphin

Surfing dolphin!

Then, more cruising. All this cruising seemed strange after having whales fairly close to shore recently, but it was a beautiful day for a boat ride. After we got about 24 miles offshore, we were rewarded with plenty of whales - a minke, then a pair of fin whales pretty close (with blows from another 8 or so fin whales out in the distance!).

One of the fin whales

Our last sighting was one of this summer's favorite humpback whales - a male named Tigris. Tigris has been seen many times this summer, and lately he seems to be the one humpback that sticks around, even if there aren't any others! All in all, 4 species makes for a grand slam for us (what we call 4 species seen on one trip), something those of us working on the boat always love!

While humpbacks seem to have scattered lately, we are seeing tons of fin whales. Sure, they don't have a majestic tail that comes out when they dive, but somehow seeing a sleek, 70 foot whale near the boat always takes my breath away. I feel like we're so lucky to see these whales - an endangered species - as often as we do!

Here's the dramatic sky when we left!

Thanks to those who came aboard today, and a special thanks to Dan Cawley, our volunteer and David MacLaren and his students from Merrimack College in Andover who helped out with education, data collection and whale spotting today!

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Sunday on the Prince of Whales- Newburyport

What makes a good trip? Several of our guests today asked me if today was a good trip. I think that question is very personal and the answer is based on your expectations. If you expect to venture 20 miles offshore to see a specific whale do a specific behavior, then you are bound to be disappointed. If you appreciate nature for its wildness and unpredictability, then you will certainly have a great trip!

Today was a day where, admittedly, the whales were not the stars of the "show". We saw 7 species of ocean-dwelling life, and the 2 species of large whales, minke and finback whales, were a bit elusive. However, we did find 2 awesome ocean sunfish, a basking shark, some groups of bluefin tuna, as well as a couple pods of harbor porpoises, and a fabulous pod of Atlantic white sided dolphins! The sea conditions were truly perfect today for viewing marine life close to the boat. We could see the dolphins, sunfish and shark clearly through the glassy water!

Below are just a few of the images I took today of the variety of marine life we found.
Ocean sunfish

Atlantic white sided dolphin trio

Pod of Atlantic white sided dolphins

Atlantic white sided dolphin mother/calf pair


Tern on a log

Feeding frenzy with dolphins, terns and shearwaters

Basking Shark

Fin whale chevron pattern

Fin whale dorsal fin

So today, when you asked me if today was a good trip, I instantly said yes. The variety of life was outstanding and shows the complexity of a healthy ocean ecosystem.

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