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.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday on the Prince of Whales

Tripod, a 19 year old humpback whale

What a strange weather day on the Prince of Whales today! We left Newburyport in the rain, and returned in the rain, but magically our time on the Ledge with the whales was mostly dry!

We began with a finback whale. We then got closer to the Ledge and found Raccoon, our only male humpback whale of the day.

As we pushed on, a massive amount of whale and bird activity surrounded us! Greater and sooty shearwaters were every where, in numbers I have never seen before! As for the whales, we saw a lot of bubble feeding from some old friends (Tripod and Valley) and then found some new friends (Trident, Diablo and Skua). These 3 are new visitors to Jeffreys Ledge and were extra enthusiastic! Trident and Diablo breached (jumped out of the water) near the boat surprising everyone on board! I'll post images/video from that event as soon as I recieve the images!!

Trident, a 27 year old humpback whale

Diablo- kick feeding

Greater and Sooty Shearwaters!

Hungry humpbacks!

Finback whale # 0718

Thanks to everyone for braving the rain today to join us on another fabulous trip!

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Rain or shine, the whales don't mind...

The day started out sunny and warm as we awaited to go out for our morning whale watch aboard the Granite State. We started in an area a little inshore of Jeffrey's Ledge with lots of Fin whales. In fact, there were so many whales around, we couldn't look at all of them. A pair that was spending a lot of time at the surface peeked our interest. As we were watching them, a third single whale surfaced right in front of our bow and passed from one side to the next. This whale has a very unique dorsal fin and has some propeller scars along it's back. The dorsal fin of a Fin whale is one feature we use to tell these whales apart from each other. I'm looking forward to finding out who this whale is!

After spending time with our Fin whale friends, we decided to do more exploring to see what other whales we could find. We ended up only travelling a short distance before finding several Humpbacks in the area as well. Two of which, caught our attention with spectacular surface feeding. One was identified as Raccoon, and the other has yet to be identified. These two whales would work together corralling food, and Raccoon would almost breach while feeding. Take a look as to how high this whale would rise above the surface.

We were not able to identify all the whales out there this morning, but some included: Tigris, Raccoon, and Mudskipper. With so many whales around, we were anxious for the afternoon...However, lots of rain was heading our way.

As we returned from our morning adventure, it was pouring in Rye. We awaited to see if any hearty passengers would join us in our quest to find more whales...and they did. We left the dock with blankets of rain coming down, but had confidence with so many whales around, that finding whales would not be a difficult task. We found a total of 6 Fin whales and 4 Humpback whales. The Fin whales were a little more elusive than in the morning, but they may have been travelling to a different area for food. We spent the majority of our afternoon with two of the 4 Humpbacks around that continued to kick feed and create bubble nets. But, to our surprise, it was not Raccoon and friend. As one of them raised their tail above the surface to go on a deeper dive, I quickly took the photo. To my surprise, it was a whale named Trident. Trident is an adult female and one that I haven't seen on Jeffrey's for at least 4 years. I was just mentioning the other day, that with all these old friends returning to the Ledge, that she was one of the whales I really wanted to see. The Irony! Here she is photographed below.

The other whale with Trident has yet to be identified, but was very active along the surface. It proved to be an interesting afternoon where the rain cleared out when we were watching all the whales in the area. As we headed for home, the rain started once again then cleared up right before getting to the dock.

I would like to thank all our passengers who joined us today. The kids from Wolfeboro are always a pleasure to have on board, and our hearty passengers from the afternoon proved that you do not need sunny skies to see great whales.

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Behaviors of all Kinds

Thursday aboard the Granite State provided our passengers with looks at some whale behaviors not always seen. During our morning trip we found 3 Humpback whales logging. These whale were actually resting resembling large logs at the surface. Two of these whales were identified as Valley and Quote. The third animal has yet to be identified.

While spending some time with these animals we all got a major surprise when two adult Fin whales surfaced next to the boat! Just about everyone on the port side, including myself, was shocked by just how close these animals were as they surfaced from the depths of the ocean. We really got to witness just how large Fin whales are when you get the chance to see these creatures so close.

On our journey back towards Rye Harbor one of our crew members spotted another animal nearby so we went to take a closer look. Turned out to be a Humpback whale named Upsilon, first sighted in 1980, doing some bubble clouds and open mouth feeding. It was a great way to end an already fantastic morning out in the Gulf of Maine.

Our afternoon trip provided us with some completely different whales and behaviors! On our way out to the Ledge we found two Fin whale, one being Fjord(!), lunge feeding. Both animals would surface for a couple breaths and then roll upside down exposing their bellies and pleats for our passengers to see! We even got a couple glimpses of a Fin whale's tail as these animals exhibited these rarely seen behaviors. After getting some incredible looks at these Fin whales we made our way towards Jeffrey's Ledge but stopped short because we became surrounded by at least 7 Humpback whales close by!!

We found Upsilon again but this time this whale was flipper slapping over and over and over again! Looking at a giant white flipper almost 15ft in length and weighing up to 2,000lbs was quite the spectacle.
We were also treated to more bubble clouds and open mouth feeding by multiple whales in the area. A few of them were even consecutively coming up together with mouths wide open! We also saw one Humpback whale exhibiting another feeding behavior known as kick feeding. This animal was using it's large tail to scare/stun a group of fish into a very tight ball so it could then swim underneath the school of fish with it's mouth wide open and scoop up all the food.

With so much activity happening all around the boat it was even more surprising when we had two more adult Fin whales travelling through the area surface and pass by the front of the boat. Everywhere you looked we had animals surfacing providing our passengers with some incredible looks at different cetaceans.
I am still working on identifying all of the Humpback whales we saw but we did see Glostick, Scylla, and Tigris.

Great whales, great behaviors and great weather!

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday's trip on the Prince of Whales

Today, on the Prince of Whales, we had yet a very different day from yesterday. We started with several finback whales in the area including the ones shown below. We had a pair traveling together, as well as 1-2 others in the area all scooting about.

When we arrived at the Ledge, we found lots of activity including the researchers who are out in small inflatable boats trying to suction cup tag humpback whales. Check out this link to learn more about the "D-tag" project:

Research boat attempting to tag Tornado or Sword

We were thrilled to find several humpback whales feeding, including Tornado and Sword, shown below, as well as Mudskipper.

On our way in, we stumbled upon Tripod and Chromosome:


Such a beautiful sight to find whales moving in sync with other whales! The two above were feeding together- blowing clouds of bubbles to catch the fish and coordinating their dives!

Today's trip is dedicated to a good friend and fellow whale enthusiast, Mia Butler, who sadly passed away in April. Mia was a fabulous woman, full of energy and spunk. She loved sharing stories of her worldly experiences with whales and engaged her fellow passengers as well as me in the intricate ways of whales. I am certain that today during our trip, Mia was also there with us, watching from above.

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Wednesday on the Prince of Whales

Thar she blows!

What a surprising day on Jeffreys Ledge! Today we found ourselves surrounded by over a dozen of the second largest animals ever to roam the Earth! Finback whales were everywhere!!

For me, I was in heaven! Finbacks are my favorite whale. Their size, grace and mystery always amaze me. Little is known about these huge creatures compared to the more heavily-studied humpback and right whales. Every time we see a finback, we have the chance to learn something new. Did you know when you boarded the boat today that you'd be part of a research cruise as well??
Finback chevron pattern- swirly marking behind the blowhole

Finback dorsal fin- still trying to ID this one!

Finback #0369 (also knows as Dingle)- first observed on Jeffreys Ledge in 2003

A pair of finbacks

The finbacks were out and about in large numbers- at least 15 in the general area were counted! Single whales, as well as pairs, trios and even a group of 4 were cruising around, chasing fish and feeding at the surface on thier sides (lunge feeding). At one point, a pair surfaced right next to the boat- one was on its side, the other was upside down!! We could see the white belly glowing bright green through the plankton-rich water! So cool!

We also got a quick visit from our buddy, Fjord! Fjord has a huge notch in his dorsal fin, and has been tracked on Jeffreys Ledge by BOS researchers since 1996, though he was first observed in the early 1980's off of Long Island, New York! Fjord is also one of BOS's adoptable whales. Thanks to Kendall for adopting him yesterday!!

As were were engrossed in the finbacks, a humpback whale came barreling through. This was Tigris- a male humpback first seen in 1985 who has been known to spend time in the Bay of Fundy (Canada). Tigris was doing some feeding as well, blowing occasional bubble clouds to catch his prey.
Tigris surfacing in a bubble cloud

Tigris fluke

Certainly another fabulous day out there! Thanks for joining us and for supporting Blue Ocean Society's conservation and research efforts!

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Humpbacks Still Plentiful - Wednesday's Atlantic Queen Trip


Had yet another great day on the Atlantic Queen, with a total of 6 humpbacks and 2 fin whales. We've identified all but one humpback. Those we did identify included an initial pair of humpbacks, Glostick and Skua, and then we watched Valley and Tripod (who were bubble-feeding together) and Quote (who was feeding by herself). There was a single humpback who was doing fast lunge-feeding named Mudskipper, a whale who apparently hasn't hardly fluked all season, according to our research coordinator!

Thanks to all who joined us. Watching 6 animals all in the same area, who all happen to be an endangered species, makes for an amazing encounter, and one that never gets old!

Skua (first seen in 1997, gender unknown)
Glostick (born in 1997, gender unknown)

Mudskipper (first seen in 1999, gender unknown)

Valley (female first seen in 1985)

Add Image
Tripod (female likely born in 1992)

Quote (photo taken 7/15/09, female born in 1983)

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kick-Feeding Filament

Another awesome trip today! This season has been so interesting, because I can't remember a year when we've had this much surface feeding, especially with bubble-feeding humpbacks.


Today we got to see a feeding behavior I haven't seen in a long time - kick-feeding! This was done by a whale named Filament, a 20 year old female who has a very distinctive, beautiful fluke. During feeding, she lifted her fluke high above the water, and "kicked" it as it entered the water, which would concentrate the fish into a tighter group. Her unique feeding method combined her "kick" with a series of bubble clouds blown into a ring. We spent lots of time today watching those small, green bubble clouds rise up to the surface, waiting anxiously for Filament to erupt out of the water! We watched amazed as Filament fed near the boat while we sat with engines off.

The presence of hundreds of birds, including dive-bombing gannets, feeding shearwaters and petrels made for a spectacular scene!

Filament lunging upward with a mouthful of fish

During the trip, we also got a great look at 2 fin whales, another (unidentified) humpback and a trio of fin whales traveling together. There were also many other whales nearby that we didn't even get to. Getting to spend the day observing the fascinating behavior of an endangered species, under a cool ocean breeze, was a true privilege!

Humpbacks are rorquals, which means "pleated" or "tubed whale," in reference to the ventral grooves that run from their chin to their naval. Here's Filament with her pleats extended, meaning she has a mouthful!

Thanks to the passengers who joined us today - just by coming aboard you supported local marine education, conservation and research efforts! Special thanks to all of the New Hampshire/Maine teachers who were aboard and who also spent time with us on Friday and Monday developing some marine debris lesson plans related to our cleanup data. We hope to see you all again soon!

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Tuesday on the Prince of Whales

Finback whale

Another fabulous day on the water! We found 10 whales today- 2 minkes, 2 finbacks (still to be identified) and 6 humpbacks! The weather was great and was perfect for getting away from the heat on land.

The humpbacks were mostly all doing variations of bubble feeding. Only Tornado, the first humpback we saw, was moving steadily to the southeast. Quote was the next humpback- she was bubble feeding but was surfacing with her mouth closed. Mudskipper Mudskipper feeding

was next- this whale hardly ever lifts its tail but we recognize that big round dorsal fin. Solas then appeared, and this whale was using a new technique of bubble feeding- it would surface quickly without breathing, dive straight down, flick its tail to stun the fish, and then blow the bubble cloud around the fish!
Mudskipper's dorsal fin

The highlight of the trip for me was watching Tripod and Sword. I haven't seen Sword on Jeffreys Ledge since 1997, though other associate scientists saw him in 2007.
Tripod and Sword

Also during the trip, we were able to see some active research in action. The NOAA ship, Nancy Foster and the Stellwagen Bank Research Vessel, Auk, were in the area applying suction cup tags to some humpback whales. These "D-tags" record an immense amount of data which can then be uploaded and shows us exactly what the whales are doing underwater! The tags don't hurt the whale, since they are applied with a suction cup, and fall off within 24 hours.
NOAA ship with humback feeding

Thanks to all of our local visitors, as well as the groups from Tennesee and Texas! We hope to see you again soon!

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