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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

First Sightings of the Season

Well it is still foggy out on Jeffrey's Ledge but nature provided us with a bit of a surprise today. We have continued to have hardy passengers whom have not been afraid of getting a little wet and cool and were lucky enough to find some Minke whales today on our trips. We were also treated to our first bird sightings of not only a Corey's Shearwater, but a Puffin as well! And yes we were in the state of New Hampshire :)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Crew Members Help the Marine Environment, Too

I don't have any whale sightings to report today, because we haven't been out since Saturday. And then, it was too foggy to see anything, unfortunately. But wanted to share this picture with you of two of the Atlantic Queen's crew members, Billy and Todd, helping with our monofilament fishing line recycling program! The Atlantic Queen has a fishing trip each morning, so they go through a lot of monofilament. Our naturalist Patty Adell took this photo after the crew had grabbed some old line and were on their way up to our monofilament recycling bin at the top of the boat launch in Rye Harbor.

Do you have some old fishing line lying around? Don't throw it in the trash or in the water, recycle it! It takes monofilament about 600 years to break down, and when it's in the water, it can entangle whales and other marine life. Last year, several humpbacks were entangled just by monofilament.

To address this problem, we've installed several monofilament bins around the seacoast, including at Hampton Harbor, Rye Harbor, Wentworth Marina, Peirce Island in Portsmouth, and Great Bay Marine. You can also drop off your fishing line at our office, like one gentleman did recently. If you have any questions, you can email me at or call (603) 431-0260. Thanks!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What a weekend...

Jeffrey's Ledge is continuing to surprise me everyday. The last couple of days were no exception. We headed to southern Jeffrey's on Friday afternoon in hopes of finding whales that were reported to us earlier in the day. Our passengers seemed a little doubtful of seeing whales at first, but when we arrived to the reported area, about 24 miles from Rye, their patience payed off. We found 3 Humpback whales, a Fin whale, and a Minke whale all feeding within a short distance of each other. It was also by far, the most bird activity we have seen in quite some time. We spent the majority of our time with two feeding Humpback whales, Owl and Sedge. When Sedge was full from one area, he took off about a mile south, and left Owl to finish her afternoon meal. These photos are of her coming up through a bubble cloud and lunging on her side to feed.

We returned to the dock excited and anticipated what would follow the next day. Saturday, the weather on land was sunny and warm, but offshore on Jeffrey's, we met lots of fog and our visibility was down to just about a boat length. We were able to find a very nice Minke whale and had some great birds as well, including a Fulmar that seemed very curious about who we were.Text Color Our trips on Sunday were cancelled due to rough seas and we hope to be back out later today. From one extreme to another, New England weather always keeps us on our toes. I'm anxious to get back to Jeffrey's to see who may be out there. Hope you will join us.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Yesterdays Atlantic Queen Whale Watch!

Yesterday was by far the most amazing day of whale watching that I have had as an Intern for the Blue Ocean Society! Almost immediately after reaching Jeffrey's Ledge, we sighted two Humpbacks by the names Owl and Sedge. They stayed very close to our boat, surfacing continuously for almost forty minutes while we got a first-hand look at the whales bubble-feeding. We saw at least five other whales as well, and managed to sight Minke whales, Fin Whales and another Humpback who we did not get a close enough look at to determine which whale it was. All in all, it was an absolutely spectacular afternoon and I am still showing my pictures to people I know!


Yesterday on the Prince of Whales, our trip started a little slow. We found a very nice minke whale on the edge of Jeffreys Ledge, and then searched and searched and searched for more life. We noticed a greater shearwater flying along side us. Then a second shearwater appeared. Suddenly we were surrounded by greater and sooty shearwaters, storm petrels, gulls, fulmars and....two humpback whales! These whales, Sedge and Owl, were bubble feeding- blowing huge columns of bubbles to help trap the fish and krill that they were eating! The bright green patches of bubbles showed us exactly where to look for the whale! Owl and Sedge surfaced right in the middle of the clouds almost every time! This was the best whale watch trip of the season so far! Sedge even surfaced belly-up one time and showed us his huge white flipper! Willy and Pam from PA were onboard with us and I was thrilled the whales decided to visit!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Wonders of Technology

Here's a photo our intern, Hannah Coon, sent me from her iPhone a few minutes after she and naturalist Patty Adell saw "Owl" the humpback from the Atlantic Queen. They said they had a great trip, with several whales, including bubble feeding humpbacks!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Got to Love the Fog

People always seem to be a little be hesitant when we are whale watching in the fog, and today was no exception. With high seas and windy conditions this past week it was finally nice to get back out on the boat even if we couldn't see the Isles of Shoals. As we always say, you never really know what is out there until you try. And we did. Even in the fog we had some enthusiastic passengers that were super helpful in locating whales this morning. We had reports of activity in the area but with less than 100 yards of visibility in every direction we decided to "find" the whale a little bit differently. Instead of relying on our eyesight we decided to "listen" for a whale. So Captain Pete shut down the boat and everyone on board began to listen for a whale's exhalation.

When a whale comes to the surface to take a breath of air, the whale must first release all the air in it's lungs and exhales before it inhales. That exhalation cannot only rise 20ft into the air but is at a force of 300mph! (We humans sneeze at about 100mph for comparison.) So when a whale is nearby and we can't see it, there is a good chance we might hear it. . . . and we did.

It took us about three times to hear the blow before we ever even saw the whale but passengers all around the boat would immediately point in the direction they heard this exhalation. Our determination paid off! We were surprised to find a Humpback whale named Hornbill. While spending some much deserved time with this animal, low and behold, a second humpback came up to the surface! This was a whale named Owl, who was seen a bunch of times around the Ledge last year with a calf. Owl is a very distinct whale due to a scar on her back from a previous ship strike. Thankfully she was tough enough to live through the encounter as she is now 23 years old. It was very exciting to see her back on Jeffreys Ledge.

Our afternoon trip brought sunshine and less fog, though we still managed to spend some time searching in less than ideal conditions. It seemed as fast as we found the whales in the morning, they may have left the area just as quickly. To no avail we were unable to relocate our whales from the morning. We were however treated to 2 Harbor seals, 2 Harbor porpoises and 3 Bluefin Tuna. It was nice to see that the Ledge continues to be home to many different species. After more searching we came across a Minke whale that seemed to be quite concentrated in one particular area. Turns out there was a bunch of schooling fish around. The minke whale must have been having an afternoon snack.

Can't wait to see what we find out on Jeffreys this weekend. It seems yet again that fog and no visibility can't deter our hopes in finding whales!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Plankton, Plankton, Everywhere!

Well maybe not everywhere but definitely out on Jeffrey's Ledge! Managing to squeeze a whale watch out in between the wind and rain this weekend we found the Ledge a very active place. A basking shark and a humpback whale in close proximity of each other was enough for us to ponder just how productive this particular region of Jeffrey's was. Just as our friends aboard the Atlantic Queen mentioned, we too did a plankton tow and came up with a net full of plankton! Our cup of plankton was a hit around the boat, which mainly consisted of tiny animals known as copeopods, and was a great visual aid to discuss the food chain out in the ocean. Did you know that the word plankton, when translated from Greek, means "to drift?" That's right. One thing that all plankton have in common is that they cannot swim. Now some of you might be thinking. . . wait a minute I saw the copeopods moving around in that cup. . . and that's right! While some plankton can move on their own all plankton are incapable of moving against any currents or waves brought on by the ocean water. Therefore, these critters end up drifting around in the ocean because they are not "strong" enough to escape the force of the currents. Pretty interesting stuff, huh? To find out more fun facts about the ocean and the critters living in it go out on a local whale watch. Hope to see you out there!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My boy is back!!

I've been meaning to post a message for quite some time, so I apologize for the delay. We have had a nice start to our 2009 season, but the weather had been less than desirable. However, I'm happy to report, rain or shine, our passengers have been treated to some nice whale activity. We have sighted many Minke's on almost every trip. We have also had some great Fin whales and Humpbacks return to the Ledge over the last several weeks. Sedge is the Humpback with a mostly all black tail and it's been a few years since that whale has been sighted on the ledge...first seen in 1988! I'm also happy to report that Trough, a new whale from last season has returned as well. It's great to see some old friends returning to take advantage of all the food the Ledge has to offer. The highlight of my week, was seeing my favorite Humpback, Flask, this past Wednesday. I've been following this whale since I started 10 years ago and am always anxious until I see him each year. It's humbling to know that he made it through another long migration from his winter breeding grounds. I would like to thank the school groups that have joined us over the spring season and hope some of you will return with family now that our full time season has begun. The weather is keeping us inside throughout tomorrow...but hopefully we will be back out in the next couple of days. I hope to see you out there soon.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Trough Still Here!

I spent the morning at the Seacost Science Center with our inflatable whale in honor of the opening of their new exhibit Tofu: Journey of a Humpback Whale. Then we had a great afternoon on the water aboard the Atlantic Queen. I can't say the seas were very calm, but they definitely made for an interesting ride! We started out with a minke, who was darting all over the place. Then we passed a few more minkes as we searched for a reported fin whale. The fin whale never materialized, but our buddies on the Granite State found a humpback, and called us to let us know. We cruised the few miles between us and came upon the humpback, "Trough," who has been seen a few times this season already.

Trough has an all-white tail, making it a "Type 1" to researchers, who categorize whales from Type 1 (all white) to Type 5 (all black) in our catalogs. Trough was a great sighting - taking very short dives and coming close to the boat several times, and offering great looks at its flukes as it dove.

We did a plankton tow and found it full of copepods, evidence that we were seeing the food chain in action - the copepods, tiny zooplankton (animal plankton) were likely drawing some bait fish to the area to feed, which were in turn being fed upon by Trough!

Also had lots of birds today, including 1-2 fulmars, greater shearwaters, and lots of Wilson's storm petrels!

I am bummed that the weather looks so crummy the next few days, as it was great being on the water today. We are scheduled to go out daily now, weather permitting... hope you can join us soon and thanks to all the great folks who were onboard today, including a group from the Seacoast Newcomers Club!

Wilson's storm petrel
(Still perfecting my bird photo-shooting skills!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New and Old Friends

On board the Prince of Whales today was an energetic and hearty group of students from New Boston Central School. After getting underway, and conquering the steep swells at the mouth of the Merrimack River, we headed east towards the central part of Jeffreys Ledge.

Our first stop was on a minke whale. No, wait...2 minke whales. Hold on, there's a third one...Three minke whales!! These "little" whales were scooting about and on a mission but surprised us several times by surfacing close to our boat! If you look closely, you can see the minke "mittens"!

After spending some time with our minke friends, we continued on to some deeper water just off the edge of the ledge. There, we found a few blows! The first was from a huge fin whale! The blow was 20 feet tall! The fin whale soon went down for a dive, but a humpback whale took its place not far away.

The humpback's blow was a little different from most. One blowhole exhaled breath straight up, but the other blowhole exhaled out at an angle. Could it be??? Yes!!! This was our old friend Flask!! Most humpbacks have a round, bushy-shaped blow, but not our buddy Flask! His blow is a little cockeyed, making him unique even from a distance. Flask is one of our favorite whales and his tail (or flukes) pattern adorns BOS's t-shirts.
After visiting with Flask, we headed for home, but not before another humpback graced us with its presence. A juvenile humpback named Trough appeared not far from Flask. And oddly, Flask and Trough have very similar patterns on their tails! Trough was first seen last summer, and was just given its name this past spring! It was named for the dip in the edge of the right fluke- like a trough! As of now, we do not know the gender of Trough but will continue to monitor this new friend as long as it is on the Ledge.
In addition to the fantastic whales, we also encountered a plethora of bird activity including greater shearwaters, Wilson's storm petrels, common terns and northern gannets. The Ledge is alive!

Thanks to all of the students, parents and teachers of the New Boston School who made this trip a success! We hope to see you again next spring for more whale adventures!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

An old friend and favorite

Conditions were about as good as they can get as we ventured out towards Jeffrey's Ledge aboard the Granite State this past Saturday. The weather provided great visibility for searching the horizon for whale blows and with calm winds, the ocean looked like a sea of glass. We were lucky enough to come across a Humpback whale named Gondolier who was seen earlier this season. It was great to see that this whale was still actively searching for food on and around Jeffrey's Ledge. Without any chop/waves in the water we were able to get some terrific looks at this whale's white flippers as Gondolier pass alongside the boat. As we continued our time with Gondolier, Katie our naturalist aboard the boat, saw another spout from a different whale out in the distance. We watched Gondolier for one more surfacing as this whale continued it's journey further offshore before heading over to see what other whale was in the area.

Once we got in the vicinity of this second whale, which also turned out to be a Humpback whale, we realized this whale clearly seemed to be on a mission. It kept coming up to the surface just once or twice before diving back down under the water for a few more minutes. The first few looks we had on the Granite State the whale was not fully lifting it's tail out of the water. However, the moment we saw the underside of the tail, the crew became extremely excited. It was our friend Flask!

We knew Flask had been seen in a more northern portion of Jeffrey's Ledge a few weeks ago and were pleasantly surprised to see this whale clearly had done some moving about, as all whales tend to do, and ended up in the same area our trip had taken us. For many, many years, Flask has been seen by the Blue Ocean Society at least once a season and so for all of us aboard the Granite State it was great to see firsthand an "old friend" return yet again to our area here in the Gulf of Maine.

It was a great day out on the water with beautiful weather and great sightings. We all look forward to seeing whatelse is in store for us this season with hopes of seeing other familiar whales return and hopefully some new whales as well!

Update from today's trip (6/14): We had some very hardy passengers aboard the Granite State who weren't afraid of getting a little wet as we headed out of Rye Harbor this morning. We had some showers off and on throughout the trip but still had some great findings out on the water. Not too long after passing through the Isles of Shoals we spotted a Minke whale. A few times when this whale surfaced it was charging through the water, most likely chasing down fish, giving all of us a chance to see just how easily they can maneuver in their liquid world. While watching this whale we also spotted another Minke whale further off in the distance. Then out of nowhere one of our crew members, Jodi, spotted a very tall and column-like whale spout. We had found a fin whale!
At first this particular whale was being very tricky when it came to determining it's swimming pattern. One moment it would surface on our left, not go on a deeper dive, and then show up on our right a good distance away. As time and patience continued we got some amazing looks at this animal! No wonder there were a few whales in the area because as we continued on our way after spending some time with this fin whale our fish finder on board showed the boat passing over a MASSIVE amount of food (fish of some variety). This school of fish covered an area of 200ft in the water column. That's a whole lot of fish food!!
Further offshore we came across a second fin whale and spent time on the right hand side of this whale allowing us to check out the white portion of this whale's lower jaw and body.
Another good day with whales and some very prepared passengers with coats, blankets, and smiling faces!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lazy day for a lucky whale

Leaving Newburyport this morning on the Prince of Whales, I had no idea what we'd find on the Ledge. The sun was shining and the seas were wonderfully calm, much to the crew's joy! We headed toward the southern end of Jeffreys Ledge where we had some luck on Thursday's adventure. After spending a fair amount of time searching, we spotted a minke whale. This "little" whale was a bit shy and only showed itself for a few breaths before it pulled the "minke slip" and disappeared. As we waited for it to reappear, we busied ourselves by watching the tiny Wilson's storm petrels scoot about, picking up bits of plankton from the ocean's surface.

Then, we shifted our gaze from the smallest bird in the area, to the largest whale in the area as a fin whale surfaced just a few hundred yards away! Where had this whale come from and why had we not seen it sooner?? Ah, the mysteries of whales...they appear when they want to be seen!

This fin whale was a juvenile, perhaps just 40-45 feet long, compared to the 60-70 foot-long adults. It also had a very new, very fresh scar/wound on its back. Fin whales, like all whales, are subject to accidental ship strikes which can be fatal, so this whale was a lucky one- to leave an encounter with a boat with just a scar- other whales don't fare quite as well. After watching this whale for a bit, we realize it was probably resting after a busy morning of feeding on herring. The fin whale was very slow moving, and barely showing its fin when it came up for a breath.

Eventually we moved around to be able to see its white lower jaw glowing beneath the surface and watched the whale in silence as it rested along side us! These peaceful, almost magical moments are what we, as whale watchers and researchers, live for. Sure, it's fun to see active whales splashing about, but to have the second largest animal on Earth simply relaxing next to your boat is the ultimate "being one with nature" feeling!

A Surprising Day

Friday, June 12 turned out to be a great day on the water, much to my surprise. The marine forecast on Wednesday made it look like the seas weren't going to be very fun. To be honest, we did have some folks that were feeling a little "under the weather," but by the end of the trip, we were coasting home on some following seas, under sunny blue skies, having had great looks at two humpbacks!

Thanks to the Cutler School from Swanzey, who came 2+ hours across the state to join us yesterday! As promised, here is some information on the two humpbacks we saw.

Humpback #1 was a whale named Literal, with an almost all-black tail (a Type 5 to us researchers!). Literal has two light lines on the right side of its tail, and the name Literal, according to a researcher who suggested it, is for those two marks, which look like quotation marks. In computer programming, apparently the word literal stand for those quotation marks, "which are used to denote a specific string value." As we told you when we visited Cutler School, sometimes we have to get very creative when naming whales!!

Humpback #2 is named Trough, and that one's a little more clear. Trough has a Type 1, or all-white fluke, and there's a "dip" in the edge of its fluke where it lost a bit of its tail some how. That cutout is in the shape of a trough.

Both of these whales are animals who were sighted for the first time only last year, and first sighted by Blue Ocean Society researchers in the Jeffreys Ledge area!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rock 'n Roll Fin Whales!

In spite of yesterday's gray skies, drizzle and rocky seas, the Prince of Whales and her passengers- hearty students from the Charter School, and a group of staff from the Seacoast Science Center, were happy to find two very cooperative fin whales!

The second of the two whales really gave us a surprise. At first, this large whale was only spending about 3-4 minutes underwater. It surfaced fairly close to us once, and turned toward our bow as we idled nearby. The huge whale swam close to us before diving, almost like it was doing some "people watching"! Then it disappeared for about 12 minutes. Where did it go?? Fin whales can move quickly, so within that amount of time, it could easily be out of our range. But then we spotted it, only about a half mile away. As we slowly approached, the whale submerged and was no where to be seen.....until......PPPPSSSSHHHHHH!!!

The fin whale blew right next to the boat, surprising not only myself but our interns, Philip and Kirstin, and our crew! The beauty of a graceful fin whale always amazes me, but when they approach so closely, so stealthy, so unassuming, I am again reminded of their immense size and power and place on the planet.

(Fin whale #0407- seen in 2004 and 2007)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Gentle minkes and beautiful fins

Sunday's whale watch on the Prince of Whales in Newburyport was a bit of an exploration adventure. We had heard from our friends on fishing boats that the whales we found on Friday had moved on, and that other fishing boats had seen blows on the southern part of the Ledge early in the day. So we left the Merrimack River and pointed the bow south-east, towards southern Jeffreys Ledge, off Cape Ann, MA.

Our first stop was on a pair of minke whales. One was a bit shy but the other cooperated quite well. The minke surfaced many times near the boat, piercing the calm surface water with its pointed "nose" and barely making a ripple as it took a breath.

After continuing to the southeast and not finding much marine life, we turned to head up the eastern edge of the ledge in a northeast direction. An observant passenger on the upper deck spotted a whale spouting not too far away. This was a fin whale! We tried to get some looks to see who the fin whale was but this animal had other things on its mind! We managed to get a quick look at the back and dorsal fin before the whale went down for a dive.

As we kept searching along the ledge, minke whales were popping up seemingly all over! A total of 6 minkes were seen throughout the trek. Finally, we spotted a second fin whale. This one was more laid back and seemed to be traveling just below the surface and not diving deeply. The tall fin of this whale is distinctive although as of right now, we still haven't been able to positively match it to any whale in our catalog. We will keep looking and let you all know if and when we do find out who it was!

Thanks to all of our explorers yesterday for your thoughtful questions and enthusiasm!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Minke Weekend

Minke whales were plentiful on and near Jeffreys Ledge this weekend. Today we were fortunate to have 5-6 different minke whales circling the Atlantic Queen while they hunted for prey apparently just below the surface. We got great looks at these minkes!

We grabbed a water sample with our plankton net at one point, and found it chock-full of plankton, especially copepods, which in addition to being a fun word to say, is an important organism in the Gulf of Maine. The copepod forms an important link in the food web as they feed on small phytoplankton and are in turn fed upon by fish like Atlantic herring, which are eaten by whales. We saw the food web in action today, with the high abundance of plankton apparently drawing lots of fish, which attracted the minkes!

I enjoyed meeting and talking with everyone on board today, including many repeat visitors, many visitors from Pennsylvania and some "regulars" who were honoring us by celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary aboard the boat. Thanks for coming and we hope to see you again soon!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

This just in...

Research Associate, Jonathan Gwalthney was fishing on the northern part of Jeffreys Ledge yesterday and came across our friends Fjord, the fin whale, and Flask, the humpback whale!! We've seen Fjord a couple of times so far but this was the first sighting of Flask for the season! Both Flask and Fjord are Blue Ocean Society adopt-a-whales, and are currently available for adoption! Visit our website for more information.

In addition to these well known friends, Jonathan also caught a quick glimpse of fin whale #0354, and a humpback that we are still working on identifying. Thanks for the sightings JG!

If you wait long enough, the whale will find you!

Friday's trip on board the Prince of Whales in Newburyport showed us a wonderful variety of what Jeffreys Ledge has to offer. We began our trip by observing a cooperative minke whale about half way between shore and the ledge. We all got some great looks at the minke, who was scooting around quite a bit, and even swam under our boat and blew bubbles on the port side!

As we approached the edge of the ledge, we got a call from our friends on another whale watch boat informing us of a large fin whale in the area. We slowed down and got some great looks at this whale that had a large notch in its dorsal fin. This whale is one that our researchers have been tracking since 1996, and has a history of sightings in other locations dating back to 1984! Although this distinctive whale does not yet have a name, it is know by the ID number "9618". We see this whale fairly frequently and would love to assign it an official name. If any of the students from the Bethlehem or Sunapee schools would like to suggest some names, we will certainly take those into consideration! Keep in mind, whale are usually named for distinctive marks, like that big notch in the dorsal fin!

As we were watching 9618 for a while, Captain Billy spotted another blow not too far away. We moved about a half mile and looked and looked. This mystery whale was not showing itself. After a few minutes of staring at quiet water, we saw a blow! It was 9618 again, seemingly following us. But then two more blows appeared. These blows were smaller in size, and we found that the whales that were under the blows were humpback whales! One of the whales went down for a dive and was gone. The other was closer to us, and as it dove, we were all excited to see its huge tail come out of the water! The distinctive markings on the underside of this little humpback whale's tail matched a whale in our catalog. It was Chickadee- the 2006 calf of Rapier! Chickadee was seen on Jeffreys Ledge last year but was not given a name until this past April! We wished we could have stayed longer to see who the other whale near Chickadee was, but the dock was calling and we had to head for home.

Thanks to the enthusiastic students, parents, teachers and family groups who accompanied us on this trip! We hope you join us again soon for another adventure to see who else is visiting the ledge this summer!