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, August 31, 2009

August 31 a beautiful day on the Atlantic Queen

The sun was shining, the breezes cool,and we could see for miles and miles,we could not have asked for better conditions to watch whales. Our first stop for the day was only outside the shoals with Atlantiv white sided Dolphin, there were at least 70 in the pod, loaded with new calves and there moms . Above is the scene leaving the dolphin when they play in our wake.

Our next stop got us great looks at many fin whales, we stopped on 4 differant whales with blows in every direction. Our passenger also saw some lunge feeding and could see the beautiful color of the underside of the tail which doesn;t happen very ofter.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday's Atlantic Queen Trip

We've had calmer days on the water, but considering Saturday's weather, Sunday wasn't too bad. There's still plenty of whales around. We spent time today going back and forth between several fin whales and a couple of humpbacks. There were also several more whales in the distance.

We got great looks at the fin whales, including one whale who hung out under the surface alongside the port side of the boat, offering us great looks at its white lower jaw and beautiful chevron coloration.

I've identified one of our two humpbacks - a female named Flamingo, who was first sighted in 1997. In 1997 she was already an adult, meaning she was at least 5 years old then, making her at least in her late teens. Flamingo had her first known calf in 2007 - this calf hasn't been named yet.

Flamingo was likely named for the two lines on her right fluke, which look like a flamingo's legs!

We saw another humpback, this one with a less prominent fluke pattern. We haven't identified this whale yet, but will post its name here if we figure it out!

Our un-identified humpback

A fin whale's chevron, showing its marble-like coloration

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Day of the Fin Whale

So I don't know about anyone else but when you spend the day surrounded by the second largest animal in the world I would go ahead and call that a good day, a REALLY good day!

So was the case today and what a day it was. We found 10 different Fin whales spread all throughout the ocean this morning! One of the first few whales we stopped to check out was actively feeding during a few surfacings and our passengers were thus treated to seeing a 60+ ton animal on it's side with a portion of it's tail sticking out of the water. We also got some incredible looks at a Fin whale circling around the area. This particular Fin whale pictured below is 0402, a whale first seen in 2004, and one I have only seen one other time this season in July!
As we continued further offshore we kept seeing exhalations from whales out towards the horizon. With great visibility out on the ocean today we kept spotting whales way out in the distance. Once we finally got closer we got some amazing looks at these whales as well. One of the Fin whales in the area surfaced right alongside our boat and took at least 8 breaths before it dove deeper down in the water. With so many surfacings we watched this whale as it easily moved through the water and saw the entire length of this animal just under the water. Check out the chevron pattern in this photo, it's the swirly silvery-white shading pattern seen on all Fin whales with each animal having a unique shading to it. What a magnificent look at this massive creature. The photo below is still of the same whale from the chevron pictured above but in this photo you can see the large scar beyond the dorsal fin. Granted this marking will make it easier to match up this animal to our Fin Whale Catalog but sad to think this scar most likely materialized as a result of some sort of entanglement in rope.

Our afternoon trip began just the same as the morning. We found a Fin whale a bit inshore from the Ledge. Turned out this first animal was one of the same individuals we had seen during our morning trip, thanks to photo-identification, and spent some time with this animal before moving further offshore.

We ended up in a region where we became surrounded by whales, mainly Fin whales, surfacing in all directions around the boat. Within the mix of Fin whales a Humpback whale was also cruising through the area. This whale was identified to be Leukos, a female whale. As we began to spend time with her more Fin whales kept popping up randomly, surprising all of us aboard the boat, as these sleek moving whales would surface close by and ever so gracefully disappear back under the water. It truly is a sight to witness the ease of which these huge mammals travel through the ocean.

If that wasn't enough to be thrilled with for the day as we were heading home Captain Pete spotted a bit more activity we had not yet seen at all today. We found a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins! What a great way to wrap up an already wonderful day out on the water with 30 dolphins swimming just off the bow and in our wake. These dolphins are typically seen quite often on Jeffreys Ledge in the summer months, but for whatever reason, they have been a bit elusive this year. So it was a pleasant surprise to spend some time with these whales before we turned back towards Rye Harbor.

Thanks to all of our very inquisitive folks today. You all asked some great questions and were eager to learn more. A special thanks to Nancy and her friends who joined us this morning as she also works closely with the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation in downtown Portsmouth at out free live Touch Tank. It was a pleasure having you on the boat again but instead of chatting with you as a Blue Ocean Intern I got a chance to share my enthusiasm for the whales over the microphone as the Naturalist. Thanks to all of our birder friends as well who continue to teach me more and more about identifying different unusual species of birds. And of course thanks to all who joined us on such a wonderful day!

Looks as though "Danny" will be interrupting our whale watching plans for this weekend but we will be out on the ocean for both trips tomorrow. I wonder what will be waiting for us to find in the morning. . . .

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday on the Atlantic Queen Out of Rye

The right side of one of the fin whales, showing its prominent marble-like chevron marking

Another great day on the water, with warm weather and sea conditions that were a tad choppy, but pretty nice overall! Still plenty of whales around. We started with a number of fin whales in the area, and one of our first ones gave us great looks alongside the port side of the boat. We could see its bright white lower jaw and it's swirly gray chevron. It's always humbling for me to see these huge animals so close!

One of the fin whales might be one that we saw in in our first year of research, 1996! This whale had a distinctively hooked dorsal fin with a notch in its back edge, likely the result of an entanglement at some point.

There were also several humpbacks around. It's late and I wanted to get this post up tonight, so here's the whales and a little about them. If you have any questions, please email them or post them in the comments section. Thanks for coming onboard today! We had a great, very enthusiastic crowd and I enjoyed speaking with and having lengthy conversations with many of you!

Leukos, a female first seen in 1980
Leukos is Greek for "light, bright, brilliant" - that makes sense with Leukos' bright white tail!

Filament, a female born in 1989
In botany, the filament is the stalk that bears the anther, the usually roundish, fuzzy, small part that bears the pollen. Filament is also a word for a finely spun thread. Her name likely came from the large black line on the left side of her fluke, combined with the other finer lines. This is one of my favorite whales. I just love the contrast in her tail.

Hornbill, likely a male, first seen in 1977
Hornbills are a type of birds with a huge, usually curved bill, usually with a bony projection on top. Honestly, after seeing this whale many times, I still don't quite get why this whale was named that, but maybe you do?

A male(?) with a striking tail pattern who was first seen in 1985. Presumably the white patches resemble a raccoon's "mask"

A 23-year old female. Freckles does have a few "freckles" on her tail, but also a dorsal fin that has lots of round barnacle scars on it, which makes it appear freckled.

Hope you enjoyed the trip and we see you again soon!

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Wednesday on the Prince of Whales-Newburyport

Still lots of whales near Jeffreys Ledge! We found Hornbill (above) and Filament (below) as well as a few other humpbacks and several fin whales!

Filament has been around a bit lately, and you can see her entanglement scar in the above image. Entanglements in fishing gear is a huge threat to whales. The next time you buy seafood at a restaurant or market, be sure the seafood is sustainably and responsibly caught. Visit or for more information.

Near the end of our trip, we found 3 fin whales traveling together. These whales are huge and we got some excellent looks at them!

Thanks for visiting!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday August 25th on the Atlantic Queen

Atlantic white-sided dolphins!

A bit of feeding out there today!

What a beautiful day on the water today, with nice and really big fin whales traveling and doing some lunge feeding in the distance. These whales are so enormous the white water from feeding can be seen from afar. Their size always seems to amaze!

Fin whale

Several humpbacks joined the fun, doing some tail breaching and a bit of feeding!
And finally some playful pod of Atlantic White sided dolphin. As I expressed to our passengers they are difficult to photograph, but to my surprise I did get the one photo shown above. Our passengers got some great looks at many moms and their calves. This was only my second dolphin sighting this summer, I was very happy to see them all today.

Terrific passengers today from Canada, Australia and some folks from New Orleans too! Many local folks as well, and many thanks to those who supported us today and to our repeat passengers, we couldn't do our work without you!

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Tuesday on the Prince of Whales- Newburyport

Still lots of whales, post- Hurricane Bill! We found at least 4 fin whales, 4 humpbacks, a minke and a pod of Atlantic white sided dolphins!
The first fin whale above, was moving slowly just sub-surface and we got some great looks at it including this glimpse of an entanglement scar- the gray marking after the dorsal fin.

Next we found another fin whale- this one with a distinctive dorsal fin with a notch in it. Still not sure who are fin whale friends were but will spend some time looking in the catalog to see if they have been seen previously.

Dorsal fin with notch

Distinctive chevron pattern

We also found several humpback whales in the area including Filament, Leukos, Newton and an unknown. Filament surfaced once close to us, rolling on her side and lifting her flipper!


On our way in, we encountered a pod of Atlantic white sided dolphins. This was a nursery pod comprised of primarily mothers with calves. These dolphins came close to the boat and we got some great looks at this group of 40-ish.

We also found some excellent bird life offshore including all 4 species of shearwaters, Wilson's storm petrels, phalaropes (likely red-necked) and a few gannets.
flock of shearwaters (3 species here!)

Cory's shearwater

Thanks to all of our dedicated passengers from near and afar! You were a pleasure to sail with today!

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday on the Prince of Whales- Newburyport

After a "hurricane day" yesterday, we braved the seas and ventured back out to Jeffreys Ledge. The worst part of the trip was crossing the Merrimack River bar on our way out. From there, we had a gentle roll all day, rocking the boat and putting many folks to sleep!

As we approached the ledge, we found lots of blows in the a rea. Everything was pretty active but we managed some excellent looks at several fin whales and humpback whales.

Fin whale spout

Fin whale

The humpback we spent the most time with was Filament, a 20 year old female humpback. She was feeding and was surfacing close by, sometimes blowing clouds of bubbles and coming up right in the middle of her bubbles. We could tell she had been feeding long before we arrived as nearly every time she dove, she left a big "brown cloud" behind her :)

Filament, opening her mouth just before a dive

Filament surfacing in a bubble cloud- see the water pouring out of her mouth, past the baleen!

Filament "kick feeding", flicking her tail just before diving

Filament's flukes

It was a lovely day and I was pleased to meet so many happy passengers. Thanks to our group of bus drivers for your enthusiasm (and for booing the careless tuna charter boat) and to the adventurous family from Canada for your curiosity and genuine interest!

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday on the Prince of Whales- Newburyport

I sometimes wonder how candid this blog should be. It is, after all, a blog, so I feel we should be able to post our thoughts as honestly as possible. This one is about as honest as it can get. As we were boarding today, I was wondering why in the world we were going whale watching when it had just poured and lighting was striking all around, it was still raining, and all the other whale watch boats had canceled (some even relocated to safer ports) as Hurricane Bill was on its way. The forecast was for big seas, patchy fog and lots of rain including some severe storms. I really couldn't image a day any worse. But the captain had talked to his fishing friends who were off shore already, and was watching the radar intently. I should know by now to trust the captain's instincts. We got off shore and found the ocean to be not at all as the forecast had predicted.

A few miles out of the harbor, the skies cleared and there was just the slightest roll out of the southeast. Once we got near the ledge, the life just blossomed!

Fin whales were everywhere! We stopped the boat and saw blows as far as the eye could see in most all directions! We had several groups of 3-4 fin whales, which is a bit unusual for this area!

Three fin whales (2 backs and one dorsal fin tip!)

In one of the trios, as we pulled up along side, one of the whales did a barrel roll- something I've never seen in all my years of whale watching! This was a great opportunity to learn the gender- it's a girl!!

Fin whale rolling over!

And then another fabulous moment for research.....Ladder was here!! Ladder is a fin whale who we at Blue Ocean have been tracking since 1996, and who was first documented in 1984. Ladder was seen every year on Jeffreys Ledge from 2000-2007. But last year, Ladder was not seen! The year prior, he had some odd lesions on his back, so we were thinking that sadly, he was not well, and perhaps hadn't survived. You can't imagine our joy when mate Ryan and I saw him surface right along side us, with two of his friends!! Ladder is back and doing well!!
Ladder's white lower jaw

Ladder's distinctive propeller scars

Ladder is also one of our Adoptable whales making this an extra special sighting!

We then found another group of fin whales traveling with a group of Atlantic white sided dolphins! This is one of my favorite things to see- the very big, and the very small, all working together!

Two dolphins surfacing

All in all, we saw 16++ fin whales, 4 humpbacks, 2 minkes and at least 50+ Atlantic white sided dolphins. For anyone who thinks that whale watching is just about "humpback whale" watching, today surely proved them wrong. As we did find 4 humpbacks, we only saw the tail of two of them, and only one was the underside- the side that shows us who the whale is. The rest were sleepy and not fluking at all. Though whales have every right to be mellow, today just proved how any preconceived notions about whales could quickly and easily thrown out the door. Humpback Whale, Milkyway

And though we had to cancel our bird watching trip this morning, we did see lots of bird activity this afternoon including all 4 species of shearwaters, gannets, common terns and Wilson's storm petrels. Good times were had by all!

Wilson's storm petrels

Thanks to all of our hardy passengers who knew better than to stay on land on this hot and steamy day, and to our captain, Billy, who made the right decision.

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Friday on the Granite State

Well as we left Rye Harbor in the morning we were completely surrounded by fog. However, within a few miles after leaving land we were pleased to see that the fog lifted and we had plenty of visibility, allowing for more optimal conditions to search for whales.

It wasn't long before we were back in the area where we had been the day before and had success with whales. Within minutes we saw a blow from a large whale and turned course to head in that direction. Suddenly we saw blows in every direction around the Granite State! Right from the start we came upon 4 different Fin whales and at least 4 different Humpback whales. After taking a few minutes to determine where all the animals were and where they were going we began to ease our way to get some good looks at all that we could.

One of the Humpback whales we spent time with was Solas who was circling around close to the boat actively feeding. Our passengers got some great looks at all the baleen plates inside Solas' mouth as this whale kept coming up though the bubble net it was creating with it's mouth wide open. You can see in this photo Solas is filtering lots of water out of it's mouth as the birds scavenge for any left over scraps. Awesome way to start the trip!

We also found Valley with Tripod, Filament, Leukos and Upsilon during our morning trip. Leukos' dorsal fin is seen below. While we were watching some of these animals suddenly the Fin whales who had been in the area popped up, seemingly on a mission to somewhere. At one point we had 4 Fin whales surface together all at one time, including Fjord (pictured below),providing a great comparison between the 40-50ft Humpback whales and the 60-70ft massive Fin whales all in the same area! We continued to spend time with the whales but ended up getting socked in the fog that was beginning to form in the offshore waters.

We continued on our way in hopes of getting out of the thick fog but were unsuccessful as we were running out of time for further searching for our trip.

Our afternoon whale watch was free of fog but was replaced by a steady sea breeze giving our passengers a bit of a ride out towards Jeffreys Ledge. We started with a bit of difficulty when we kept seeing blows from animals but were unable to actually see the body of the whale. No worries though because we ended up with Valley and Tripod, still moving around together, but acting much differently than we had witnessed from our morning trip.

These two Humpback whales were sleeping, or logging, right at the surface. Our passengers got some amazing looks at both animals especially when both whales surfaced just next to the boat and continued their resting behaviors. Of course as usual as we were watching these two animals, 2 Fin whales surfaced just off our bow for several breaths before diving down back to the depths of the water column.

Once we were out of time and had turned back to the west and picked up speed it seemed as though both Humpbacks decided to wake up. Suddenly behind us some very observant passengers informed us that the whales were jumping clear out of the water!! Turns out that was exactly the case. Both Valley and Tripod breached multiple times and then started to flipper slap and tail breach. We could not head back to the area due to time constraints but we slowed down and situated the boat so that everyone had a good view of all the activity. What a great way to end the trip! A surprise to everyone and some great looks at some very rare behaviors to see from not only one, but two whales!

Looks like we will be hanging out with all the land dwellers for the next few days as we feel the effects of "Bill" and wait for the seas to subside a bit. I know we will all be anxious to get back out on Jeffreys after this weekend. Come on out and see what we will find!

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday on the Prince of Whales- Newburyport

I really can't believe how hot and humid New England can be! Today was a scorcher on land but fairly reasonable off shore! The breeze was picking up out by the Ledge but the whales didn't seem to mind. We found Valley with a new friend, Tripod. As of recently, Tripod was hanging with Chromosome, and Valley with are the days of whales' lives!

Valley and Tripod

We then saw a pair of fin whales who were very cooperative- allowing us to motor along side of them to get fabulous looks at their entire bodies just below the surface!

A visitor asked me about the breathing of whales. We see that dramatic blow (or spout)- the exhalation, but when do they have time to inhale?? The whale inhales immediately after exhaling- it all happens in a second or so. On calm days we can hear the inhalation sound too! Very cool! Whales exhale at about 300 mph, and the volume of the lungs for a fin whale is about 525 gallons of air (as compared to 1.3 gallons for a human)! Also, whales exchange about 85-90% of their lung capacity with each breath, as compared to a human who only exchanges about 18%. Whales are certainly very well adapted to their oceanic habitat!

Fin whale exhaling

Fin whale blow holes- now inhaling

Thanks for visiting! And thanks for all the great questions today!

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