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.

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.

Were you on this trip? We'd love to hear what you thought! You can leave a comment below.

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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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Bird and Whale Success on the Granite State

An all day bird trip yesterday provided ample time to do some exploring out towards Jeffreys Ledge in search of birds (and whales)! We found plenty of all critters including grand slams of shearwaters and whales in the state of NH. As for our birds we had 3 species of jaegers (parasitic, long-tailed, and pomarine) with a picture of a parasitic and a long-tailed (with a greater shearwater) pictured below. Our shearwaters included sooty, greater, cory's, and manx, as well as juvenile red-necked phalaropes. For those of you interested in the full list feel free to check out the NH Birding List online since we had lots of other birds :) Now onto the whales. . .

A great day for sighting whale activity which thankfully was paired up nicely with a lot of our bird activity so everyone on board was having a good time! Our grand slam of whales included 20+ Fin whales, 5 Humpback whales, 150 Atlantic white-sided dolphins, 4 Minke whales, and even a handful of Harbor porpoise. We also saw two Ocean sunfish (one breached!) and 1 Basking shark. Our basking shark was a nice surprise considering our last sighting of this species was way back on June 20th.

It was great being able to spend the whole day out on the water and check out some of the offshore areas we have not gotten a chance to check out during our normal whale watches. Fin whales seemed to be everywhere, with a lot of them lunge feeding at the surface. Here a few of the many individual Fin whales we had during our trip. Can you see slight differences in all the dorsal fins as far as shape and size? That is one way of distinguishing individual Fin whales apart.
As for our Humpback whales we got some close looks at both Flask and Spinnaker and passed by Tigris. Flask was bubble feeding which got some of our birders excited with all the bubbles!Spinnaker, pictured below, was a great find considering this whale hasn't been seen on Jeffreys Ledge since last year. Our dolphins were spread out over a large area allowing everyone on the boat to get some great views of these whales playing around the boat.

A beautiful day to be out on the water and many many thanks to our great friends from NH Audubon for sponsoring and leading the trip. Always great to have you all on board with us and getting all of us on so many different birds!

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