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.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Newburyport-Prince of Whales-May 30

For a holiday weekend, we had to work a little too hard to find whales today. I must admit, after many years working in the whale business, we can become a bit jaded. Most of our crew has been watching whales for all of their teenage and adult lives. We have been on literally thousands of whale watches to Jeffreys Ledge. Sometimes when we expect to find whales easily, Mother Nature humbles us with the reminder that whales are wild and are not on our time schedule.

We began our trip finding a minke whale right as we came upon the ledge. Minkes are 20-30 feet in length and can be erratic in their swimming and diving patterns. This one was great...once we figured out what it was doing. This minke was traveling in a fairly straight line to the SW. Captain Bill did a great job anticipating the whale's speed and course, giving us this lovely sighting right along side the boat:

Minke Whale Diving

We left the minke and continued on along the ledge. Reports from other whale watching and fishing boats were not favorable so we decided to explore areas that had not yet been covered. Exploring is the best way to find unique animals but can sometimes lead to what we call negative data- areas that we now know have no whales. Scientifically, this is good data since it is just as important to know where whales are AND where they are not. We were becoming discouraged and were running out of time quickly. We turned the boat to the west (toward the harbor) and were making our way back to shore when Captain Bill saw a blow from a larger whale!

This turned out to be a large fin whale (also called finback whale). Although this whale's dive times varied immensely, we were able to get a couple of decent looks at it. After downloading and enlarging the images tonight, I am ecstatic to report that this whale is a known individual and has been seen on Jeffreys Ledge before! Fin whale #0811 (sorry, no official name yet) was seen by Blue Ocean Society researchers in 2008! The unique dorsal fin shape and some body marks/scars confirmed this ID!
Fin whale # 0811
Thanks to all of our curious and understanding passengers today for your patience and dedication! We hope to see you again soon! And now we wonder what Mother Nature will bring us tomorrow :)

Were you on today's trip? Post a comment below!

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Granite State May 29

The start to the holiday weekend brought out some sun and for our passengers some active sightings from 3 different species of whales. The whales were definitely on Jeffreys Ledge so the trip out took some time but the distance was well worth it!

Out first whale of the day was a massive Fin whale. This particular animal was initially travelling as we kept watching the fluke prints, the displacement of water on the surface of the ocean caused by the up/down movement from a whale's tail, steadily appear in a constant direction. After a few attempts to gauge the distance this whale kept moving, we were able to get some great looks at this almost 60ft animal cruise along the surface. After some good looks we decided to let this whale continue on it's intended course, since it was going in a direction away from the Ledge, and we wanted to continue out towards the Ledge.

After some time we started to notice quite the commotion up ahead of us. Lots of splashing, birds constantly circling overhead, gannets plunging into the water . . . we knew we had to go check out this particular region of water. Almost as soon as we altered course we saw a blow, then a another, then another! 3 whales, lots of birds, and the excitement was only just beginning.

The whales we were headed towards were all Humpback whales and were actively feeding! All on board were lucky enough to spend some time witnessing just how intricate the food web is out on Jeffreys Ledge. We had whales cooperatively feeding, making bubble clouds, and lunging up through the water catching fish and filtering out the salt water. These same fish, all herring, were also being attacked by the birds above. When the whales would coral the fish into a tight ball and come from beneath them, the fish would end up breaking the surface, at which time the gannets and seagulls would be given the opportunity to partake in such a feast. Sadly enough for the herring the whales and birds weren't the only creatures going after them. We watched a few groups of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna charge through the water, in between the feeding whales, to take advantage of the balls of bait. The large splash on the right in this photo is a Bluefin Tuna creating whitewater as is moves quickly after the herring. What a crazy, almost chaotic, spectacle! Every direction you looked there were either whales bursting vertically up through the water catching some lunch, birds picking up the leftovers and tuna scooting through it all. WOW.

To make the trip even more exciting was the fact that we saw our FIRST ADOPT-A-WHALE sighting for the 2010 season! Satula, one of the 3 Humpback whales actively feeding today, is back on Jeffreys! Satula was first sighted in 1988 and has been making many appearances to Jeffreys Ledge over the years. The crew aboard the Granite State and of course the Blue Ocean Society are all thrilled to have this animal back for another season as I know this great news has travelled quickly for all associated with this organization!

The other 2 Humpback whales seen feeding with Satula today were Highlighter and Basmati. Above, Basmati and Satula surfacing together. Below, Highlighter is surfacing just as Basmati is going on a deeper dive, thus lifting her tail. Highlighter was seen last weekend out on the Ledge and Basmati was seen last summer in these waters. It was wonderful to see these familiar whales again knowing they made it through another winter and are back on the feeding grounds obviously taking full advantage of all that Jeffreys Ledge has to offer.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Prince of Whales May 27

Fin whale diving- you can almost see its tail!

What a beautiful day for whale watching! With no fog to contend with, we cruised out toward Jeffreys Ledge with a gentle swell greeting us from the east. In the deep water just to the west of the actual ledge, we spotted a few blows. As we approached, we chose to spend some time with a very cooperative fin whale. Fin whales, in deep (500+ feet) water often will spend 15-20 minutes under water if their lunch is near the bottom. This whale was diving for only a few minutes at a time and surfacing with its lower jaw full of water and fish.
Fin Whale exhaling

For a whale that needs to eat about a million calories per day, this was its lucky day! We got some great looks at the dorsal fin and swirly chevron but still have yet to identify this critter.
Fin whale dorsal fin

Check that swirly chevron pattern below!:
As we continued to investigate the other blows that were in the area, we came up empty handed. Sometimes whales are not what we call cooperative and have their own agenda that doesn't always include being watched by a big boat! Still, we are encouraged to know that there is life on the ledge. Be sure to come out with us soon!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Go Go Granite State!

Our opening weekend of the 2010 Whale Watch season did not disappoint. My first day back on board the boat was Sunday, May 23rd, with much anticipation of what and who I might see. We traveled to a deep water area of Jeffrey's Ledge where whales were found on Saturday and after searching the area for a short while, I found my first whale of the adult Humpback whale named Sickle. It felt great to be back on the water. After spending some time with Sickle, we spotted another spout from a differetnt whale, not to far away from where Sickle was, so we decided to go investigate. The other whale was lunging through the water after food and we originally thought it was an adult fin whale, but, to our surprise, it was an adult Sei whale! This species of baleen whale is similar to the larger fin whale. Two distinct differences tell these 2 species apart. The shape of the dorsal fin, and the symmetrical coloring of the whale along both sides of it's body. Below, you can see a photo of the hooked dorsal fin along the whales back. This was definitely a Sei whale!

We were amazed to see this species of whale so early in the season. They are a rare sight, but what made it even more special was the feeding behavior we witnessed from this whale. This whale would roll on it's side with ease with it's mouth wide open taking in lots of plankton along the water's surface. After repeating this several times, it would then skim feed along the surface showing all of us on board the several hundred baleen plates it uses to help strain salt water from it's mouth. If you look closely, you can even see it's eye!

It was a spectacular sight and one I will not forget! We ended our whale watch with a sighting of a large basking shark. It cruised by the boat several times letting all of us see it's large mouth open along the surface, also taking advantage of all the plankton. What a great day it was and I look forward to a summer season full of surprises!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Prince of Whales- May 23

Prong, a female finback whale

As we ventured out in the fog this morning, we were unsure of what the day would bring. Reports from fishing boats out ahead of us were positive, relaying to us that the visibility on the ledge was good, but we know fog- it comes and goes as a free spirit some days. Just after noon, as we were approaching the ledge, the fog began to clear and blue skies were immanent.

A minke whale popped up briefly but soon disappeared among the waves.
As the afternoon progressed, four different fin whales graced us with their understated presence. Usually a fin whale's exhalation is extremely visible being about 20 feet high in the air and lingering for several seconds. Today was different. The blows appeared sparse and small in spite of the huge (60-70') animals creating them. Dive times varied so we were on our toes trying to keep track of which whale was where. In the end, we managed to get decent identification photos of two of the fin whales. Looking at our catalog, it appears that we saw Pemetic and Prong today!

Prong is a female, first seen in 1995, and we know she is a female since she had a calf with her in 2000. Pemetic was first seen in 1982 and is a regular visitor of Jeffreys Ledge.
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The Granite State's first whale watch of the 2010 season

The boat and crew were ready to share our first trip of the season with some equally anxious and excited passengers this past Saturday. I don't think any of us were quite expecting to see what we saw, but all aboard the boat were thoroughly pleased with the outcome of our first outing to Jeffrey's Ledge this year.

With some early morning whale reports from our fishing vessels friends we had a good idea as to where on the 33-mile stretch of Jeffrey's Ledge to start our search. Before long a blow from a large whale was seen off in the distance which turned out to be a large Fin whale. A great way to start the season with the 2nd largest animal in the world near the boat! After spending some time with this animal we continued on toward the edge of the Ledge and were ecstatic to come across a pair of Humpback whales. The reason for our excitement was because this particular pair turned out to be a mother and her newborn calf! Knuckles, a whale yet to be sighting in the northeast this Spring, successfully migrated from the warm calving waters of the Caribbean to the feeding grounds of Jeffrey's all while travelling with her new calf. The trip was getting better and better but by no means were we done with the excitement of whale sightings for the day!

During our time with Knuckles and her calf we kept seeing some more exhalations out in the distance and decided to make our way in that direction since we had a bit more time available to search the area. What a whale hot spot we found!!!

We ended up coming across a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins swimming around with at least 2 Fin whales, one pictured below, in the area. Dolphins will use the pressure wake created by a Fin whale, much like a pressure wake of a boat, to gain momentum while moving through the water. Watching a 60ft Fin whale glide through the water while having 7ft dolphins pop up on either side of this creature is a sight that always amazes me. A Fin whale together with dolphins really helps to gauge just how large a Fin whale truly is; over 8X's the size of an Atlantic white-sided dolphin!!!

Not only where there Fin whales and dolphins in the area, but close by were 3 Humpback whales, and a Minke whale that popped up for a few surfacing before continuing on it's travels. Our Humpback whales included Sickle, Tornado and Highlighter. Sickle produced a few bubble clouds, while Tornado and Highlighter spent some time circling the area during our visit. Below is a photo of Tornado going down on a deeper dive. With Tornado making a few appearance on Jeffrey's Ledge last year it was wonderful to see this whale back in action so soon again this year. We were also thrilled to see Sickle and Highlighter considering these 2 animals haven't been documented on Jeffrey's in a few years!

Thanks to our enthusiastic passengers for joining us in marking our first whale watch for the 2010 season. I also want to send along a special thanks to our Captain and crew for working INCREDIBLY hard this winter and spring getting the boat ready for what has already exceeded expectations for the start of the 2010 whale watching season!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Prince of Whales finds the common and the uncommon!

Hi, and welcome to the first whale watch blog of the 2010 season! We departed Newburyport this morning with an enthusiastic group of students from Alvirne High School. The first trip of the season is always full of anticipation and wonder. We had reports from the fishing fleet of some whale activity on Jeffreys Ledge, but due to our time constraints, knew we couldn't make it there and back in just 3 hours.

We steamed toward another area that is known for is productivity and found a very nice minke whale. Minkes are one of the most common whales on the Ledge, but sometimes these animals are shy or aloof. This one was very social. We were close enough to see the minke "mittens"! After spending some time with this whale, we continued on and came across something unusual.

A lone bottlenose dolphin appeared! This was only the second time that I have seen this offshore form of bottlenose in this area in all of my 15 years of watching whales! Although bottlenose dolphins (think of Flipper) are common along the coast in the southeast, they are rare to find in the northeast. What made this even more unusual was that the dolphin repeatedly surfaced with its mouth open! This just goes to show that we never know what we'll find out there!
Please join us this weekend for more whale watching fun!

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Getting Ready!

Hi Everyone!
Whale watching season starts very soon- Monday in fact! I can't wait! I spent today charging batteries, cleaning cameras, stocking up on data sheets and such. The Prince of Whale in Newburyport was splashed (put in the water) today, and the Granite State in Rye had a successful sea trial with its new engines this week! Our sources tell us that whales are here so I hope to see you on a trip with us soon!

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