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 29, 2010

Crazy Humpback today on the Atlantic Queen!

Today was easily the best day of whale watching for me on the Atlantic Queen. A fantastic day weather wise, and a great variety of life out there. We started the day with a Minke whale who gave us some nice close looks. Further out a nice juvenile harbor seal spent some time with us. Then it was fin whale city! There were blows from these animals all around us! One of our Fin Whales came up and gave us a close approach, always amazing to be that close to the 2ND largest whale in the world. But the day continued to get even better. The pictures tell the story of a very active Humpback whale, this animal breached 19 TIMES! This behavior does not happen often so our passengers were left with an experience I hope they will never forget,I know I won't! With help from our Research Coordinator Dianna Schulte this whale is the calf of "Anvil" who was born in 2009! so roughly 16 monthes old!!Keep in touch!Become a Fan on Facebook Follow Us On Twitter

June 29 on the Granite State

Today was a great day to be out on the ocean. The seas were calm and with less humidity than on land it was a great little getaway. Though the weather was just a side note when it came to our sightings today. The whales yet again were wonderful.

Our morning whale watch started with a pair of Fin whales. We were able to get some close looks at both these animals and after taking photographs of their dorsal fins we were able to identify one of two animals travelling together. This Fin whale is named Streak.

You can see that whomever Streak was moving through the water with also has a uniquely shaped dorsal fin and scar marking that will definitely aid in helping to match this whale up to our Fin Whale Catalogue.

The yet-to-be identified Fin whale associated with Streak

After seeing two additional Fin whales in the area we continued on towards Jeffreys Ledge.

Thanks to our "Eagle-eyed" crew member we headed in a direction to yet another pair of exhalations out in the distance. Let us just say we were all surprised as to what we found. This pair turned out to be a different species of whale, it was a Humpback whale pair. But not 2 adults, it was a mother and her new calf! With one quick look at the adult female's dorsal fin we knew it was a new mother for us out on the Ledge. After another look at her dorsal fin we realized it was actually a completely new Mom (for the 2010 season) for the entire New England area! We had found Tripod and her 2010 calf! We were fortunate enough to see Tripod in our area a handful of times last year chowing down on the plentiful food on Jeffreys Ledge but only this morning did we realize she was pregnant the entire time we saw her in the 2009 whale watching season! Humpback whales are actually pregnant for over 11 months before they give birth to a calf in the Caribbean waters off the Dominican Republic in the winter months.

Tripod's last calf was in 2007 and are thrilled to add her to the list of mom's for the 2010 season, a number already in the mid-twenties for Humpback whales here in New England!

The excitement from our morning trip brought us back out towards Jeffreys Ledge this afternoon. However, before we even made it to the Ledge we were seeing whales. Turns out this afternoon we had another GRAND SLAM! 4 species of whales in one trip. We saw a Minke whale, 2 Fin whales, 2 Humpback whales and a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Our Fin whales were a great start to our trip because not only were they different from the ones we had seen in the morning we were also able to positively identify one our whales to our catalogue. We found the Fin whale Blunt!

Blunt recieved it's name due to the "non-pointy" overall shape of this dorsal fin

Turns out Blunt was on the move, in a direction away from the Ledge(!), so we decided to let this whale continue on its journey and head back towards the Ledge. Our next sighting ended up being 2 Humpback whales.

The first whale we spent time with is the 2008 calf of a Humpback whale named Quote.

Quote is a whale that definitely frequents Jeffreys Ledge and this calf was actually sighted during one of our whale watches last season. Another year older and this whale is again back to find food. We were able to get some great looks as this whale spent some time resting just under the surface of the water while we were close by. This 2 year-old was staying quite stationary, just under the water. When necessary this whale would rise to get a breath and just as quietly sink back under the water for a few more minutes. Whales, since they are voluntary breathers, must remind themselves to breathe every so often. They are unable to sleep like us humans because we are involuntary breathers and can be doing different activities (eating, sleeping, exercising) without having to remind ourselves to take a breath. When a whale rests, it can actually shut down one side of it's brain while the other side remains alert, to remind itself to breathe every so often. It is amazing to know how these animals have adapted to a life in the water and yet still remain warm-blooded mammals just like ourselves.

Our other Humpback whale in the area was doing just about the exact opposite from Quote's 2008 calf's behavior. This whale treated our passengers to quite the number of different whale behaviors. We saw tail breaching, a few of us saw this animal leap right out of the water (which only occurred once while we were close by!), a few roll overs and even the sounds of a trumpet blow . . . all from an animal that is only a year old!!!

A tail breach from Anvil's 2009 calf

This Humpback whale is the 2009 calf of Anvil. We actually saw this whale back on June 15 this season. For whatever the reasoning behind all of this activity these behaviors were definitely a crowd-pleaser for everyone on board!

We did not think the trip could get much better but our time out on the water wasn't over yet. Thanks to our great crew we found a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins! These whales almost appeared out of nowhere and were definitely on the move! There were about 40 of these dolphins "flying" through the water as we attempted to maintain their travel pattern to get some looks at these whales. What a phenomenal way to finish up an already incredible day on the ocean.

What will tomorrow bring? Who knows but I cannot wait to find out!

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Monday, June 28, 2010

June 28- Prince of Whales- Newburyport

Our first whale and bird watching combo trip of the season!

Today was a truly amazing day. Even our 10-year-old intern Willy and his mom Pam who come out with us regularly said that this was the best trip they have been on! Our intern Brian got a workout collecting our behavioral data as he had to test his knowledge of the many pages of behavioral codes!

We left the Merrimack River with our birding naturalist David Larson pointing out all of the shore birds along the way- common terns, egrets, ospreys, cormorants and gulls to name a few.

As we were half way between the ledge and the mainland, near an underwater feature aptly named "Halfway", we spotted our first whale. A fin whale appeared, and though it was a bit wily, I was able to get a shot of its dorsal fin and knew it was #0520.
Fin whale #0520
As we were watching this whale, 2 others were around us in the neighborhood.

We continued on, and David was discussing the lives of the pelagic birds we were seeing- gannets, shearwaters (all 4 species!), Wilson's storm petrels, and roseate terns.

Soon, another blow appeared. A humpback surfaced and as we were waiting anxiously to see its flukes, it surprised us with a full breach! This was the first breach our crew has seen this season. Needless to say, we were all excited, and even more so to learn that this was Pixar, the 10-year-old humpback whale we saw yesterday (the same age as intern Willy!).

A report from a nearby boat came in of some more whales in the area. After a bit of searching, we found another humpback whale who was very hungry and doing a good job catching its lunch. Although we still have not identified this young whale, we did get some amazing looks at it. More than once, it surfaced under or next to the boat, giving everyone fabulous looks.
Juvenile humpback

Humpback surfacing on its side- ventral pleats extended and white flipper showing!

The behavior of choice was to surface close to us with its mouth completely full of water and fish- somewhat resembling a balloon. We also witnessed a tail breach and a few lob tails!
Tail breach

Tail lob

After spending some quality time with our engines turned off and simply observing this whale doing what comes naturally, we looked at the clock and realized we had to start our trip back to Newburyport. Willy and Taylor were showing folks our baleen and barnacle artifacts when the boat slowed down again!

This time a pod of Atlantic white sided dolphins appeared! The pod consisted of at least 30 dolphins, and they were quite active! Getting photos of these little speed demons can be difficult but they always make folks smile.
Trip Summary:
3 fin whales
2 humpback whales
30+ dolphins
510 Wilson's storm petrels
433 greater shearwaters
125 sooty shearwaters
7 Corey's shearwaters
2 Manx shearwaters
10 northern gannets
3 roseate terns
(plus all the shorebirds in and around the river)

Thanks to David for providing these excellent images of a Corey's and greater shearwaters!

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June 28th on the Granite State

We started the day with fog and were unsure of what was in store for us. As we headed to Jeffrey's Ledge, the fog started to lift, and the sky was clearing. We found 4 fin whales, 1 minke, and 1 Humpback in all. This Humpback is a young whale and we are still in the process of trying to identify who this might be.

One of our Fin whale's was identified as #9709, photographed below. You can appreciate just how big this whale really is when you notice the bird flying just above it's back.
I was not able to get clear shots, but for all our bird friends, we had a grand slam for Shearwater species, which made for a nice contrast with all the whale activity.
A speical thanks to our passengers who joined us today. Even though we started with foggy conditions, we ended with sunny skies and lots of whales to report.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 27- Prince of Whales- Newburyport

Great day out of Newburport today! 7 fin whales, 3 minkes an one humpback!
Below are a few images of today's trip!

Pixar feeding

Pixar flukes

Fin whale # 0527

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June 27 on the Granite State

While we always enjoy seeing any sort of marine activity out on the water, we tend to get intrigued when we happen to come across something a bit more unusual. Sometimes we see different birds, or sharks, or whales, that peak our interest in unexpected ways. Such was the case this morning.

Our crew, naturalist, and Blue Ocean Society summer intern, were all chatting with each other prior to the trip about Minke whales this morning. This particular species of whale is actually the only baleen whale not to be endangered. Population estimates are upwards of one million worldwide. Throughout the discussion we were commenting on how mom/calf Minke whale pairs have VERY RARELY been seen on Jeffreys Ledge and for that matter why we have never come across a Minke whale unusually small (a yearling perhaps). While we were throwing around different thoughts and potential reasons it was time to leave the dock and head offshore.

Well what do you know. . . our conversation became real life! The first whale we found today was an incredibly small Minke whale. This animal's size was relative to the Minke whales we normally see and have seen over the years on Jeffreys Ledge. While adult Minke whales can reach lengths of 20-30ft long, this particular animal was MAYBE 10-15ft long, if that at all! I know the photograph does not do much justice to gauge just how small this animal is but it was by far the "tiniest" anyone of us have ever seen!
Our Minke whale surfacing and then going on a deeper dive

Thanks to Heather our intern, she recorded the location and behaviors (down to the second!) of this animal. It will be interesting to see if we get a chance to see this whale again. Maybe get a chance to take more photographs and start to learn why we here in this region of the Gulf of Maine typically do not encounter such potentially young Minke whales.

Our Minke sighting was only the beginning as we found other Minke whales, multiple Fin whales, 2 Humpback whales, and even a Basking shark during our trips today.
One of the Fin whales we spent time watching today
A Humpback whale coming up to the surface to exhale and then take a breath of air
Some of our whales provided passengers the chance to see active feeding behaviors such as a whale filtering water through hundreds of baleen plates and a Fin whale side lunging through the water!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 26- Prince of Whales- Newburyport

Greater Shearwater taking off

After a very long day of searching and finding elusive whales, our patience finally paid off! We started with a fin whale that was traveling and then changed directions, a couple minke whales scooting about, and then a few more very elusive fin whales. At one point, fin whale #0611 popped up right next to us but then we never saw it again! Another much smaller fin whale moved in and actually circled the boat and even rolled over underwater in the process! What a big white belly!! But soon this curious whale moved off as well.

We decided to try our luck on Fin Whale Alley- an area to the west of Jeffreys Ledge that we crossed over early in the trip but didn't see anything at that point. FWA was true to its name this time! With the full moon bringing stronger tides, the bait fish and krill (small shrimp-like critters) really get pushed around a lot, keeping us, and the whales, on our toes so to speak.

We found a blow ahead of us and before we got to it, a minke popped up. This was not just any minke, but SCAR MINKE! I have been watching Scar Minke on Jeffreys Ledge nearly every year since 1995! How excited I was to see this whale back for another year! Scar Minke gets its name from the huge scar/indentation on its back just ahead of its dorsal fin- likely the result of an entanglement when it was young. As we tried to get photos of Scar Minke, a pair of fin whales surfaces. We were quickly running out of time so we scooted to the pair, seeing a glimpse of them just before they dove.

As we waited for another surfacing, a third fin whale blew ahead of us. Looking through the binoculars, I could see that this whale had a handful of dolphins with it! We left the pair to see this awesome sight- one of the largest whales swimming with some of the smallest! I must admit, watching fin whales and dolphins together is one of my favorite whale watching moments. The size difference is amazing but really, it is the ease of keeping track of the big whale that is so much fun! The dolphins seem to follow the fin whale while it is down on a dive, so all we need to do is keep track of the dolphins, and the fin whale nearly always surfaces right with them!

Fin whale creating a "bow wave" while surfacing!

Fin whale #0532's chevron pattern

Fin whale #0532's dorsal fin

Fin whale #0532 surfacing with dolphin escorts!

Fin whale barely breaking the surface with dolphins in the background

Thanks to everyone for coming with us today and for your generous support to our organization!

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Atlantic Queen, Saturday - Crazy Dolphins!

Great day on the water today! We cruised for awhile and then came upon some splashing, which turned out to be a giant pod of dolphins! There were probably well over 200 of them, and we could see them all around the boat, just about everywhere we looked. As an added bonus, they were also very active, with lots of leaping and “surfing” in our wake.

Here's our volunteer, Dan, watching one of the dolphins leaping in our wake:

Then we got a report of a humpback whale, which turned out to be ‘Hornbill,’ a male first seen in 1977! He was already an adult then, which means this whale is at least 40 years old.

Regarding his name - hornbills are a type of bird with a huge, usually curved bill. The bill has a bony projection on top. I imagine his name has to do with the large black mark in the middle of his fluke, but I still can’t quite make the connection. Can you?

We left Hornbill and turned for home, and then were surprised to see another small pod of dolphins busily working the surface. A great day, and evidence that there’s plenty of life on the Ledge! Thanks to all who joined us!

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June 25 and 26 on the Granite State

It has been a busy few day (thanks to the whales!) and I am anxious to report all the sights we have seen over the last few days. Yesterday, June 25, was a great day. Not only did we find 7 different Fin whales out on the water in the morning, two of them were a Mother/calf pair!

This is the first Fin whale calf we aboard the Granite State have spotted this season. Not only is it great to know that this pair has come to Jeffreys Ledge to search for food, but it is not the only pair in the area! Our friends aboard the Prince of Whales also spotted a Mother/calf Fin whale pair (see posting below from the Prince of Whales) in a completely different region of Jeffreys Ledge! 2 Fin whale calves on the same day. How incredible.
For any on board either boat it was a sight to see. Imagine a large female Fin whale travelling along with it's calf, an animal when born, that can easily reach lengths of 20 feet long! While we have yet to match this Mom to our Fin whale catalogue Will, one of our trusty crew members, actually remembered seeing this whale years ago, all due to this whale's uniquely shaped dorsal fin! Thanks to a great memory and a few photographs, Will was able to trace back to August 2008 when this whale was spotted on Jeffreys Ledge. Of course it is possible this whale may have visited this area between then and now, so hopefully once we identify this animal we can look through our archives to see other documented sightings of the female Fin whale! With such a great find in the morning we all wondered how the afternoon trip could match up to our morning sightings. Little did we know what we were in store for.

With such good sightings in the morning we decided to head back to the same area in the afternoon for our trip on June 25. Turned out the whales that had been seen by us in the morning were nowhere to be found. Instead we came across 2 adult Fin whales travelling together.
One of the 2 Fin whales travelling around the area together
With a few more Fin whales in the area there was plenty to look at from all sides of the boat. After some time with these large animals we decided to see what else may have moved into the area in the past few hours. It didn't take long for us to find another species of whale, a Humpback whale.

The first Humpback we found was Hornbill, a whale first sighted in 1977. This whale was taking very long dives but giving our passengers some nice looks at the underside of this whale's tail as it would go down for a dive. We were seeing other whales in the distance and were just about to press on when..... SPLASH!

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a HUGE amount of white water. While I never saw what actually happened I knew this whale had just jumped out of the water! Well it was an easy decision to stay as this one jump was only the beginning. This whale breached multiple times, one jump after another! If we are ever so lucky to get a chance to witness this spectacular aerial display most of the time it occurs once. And during that one time, 90% of the time, most people including myself, are not even looking in that one particular spot! To have this animal continuously breaching so that EVERYONE had a chance to be amazed by a 30-ton whale literally throwing itself out of the water was quite the sight. Wow.

With more time to do some searching and Hornbill's afternoon activities ending we pressed on. Soon thereafter we saw more blows from whales. We had found another Fin whale and 3 more Humpback whales. The Fin whale was on the move so we stayed with the Humpback whales that were circling around the area. We found Satula a Humpback whale last seen on May 29. Where had this particular whale gone? While we do not know the answer it was great to see this animal back on the Ledge almost an entire month later. We also came across a pair of Humpback whales. It was Diablo and her 2010 calf! We definitely wanted to thank our passengers again for bearing with us as a few times we attempted to begin our journey home before the whales apparently wanted to keep us out there. Of course most of us on board were quite okay with the slight delays.

So comes today. It wasn't a hard decision for us to head back out to the same area as yesterday to see if anything had stuck around for the night. Since whales are wild animals and move freely throughout the ocean there was no guarantee what we might find, let alone perhaps some of the same whales. Well weren't we surprised!

We ended up finding 2 adult Fin whales moving through the water together. On the research aspect of this sighting, we were delighted to determine that these 2 animals were the same large whales we had seen during yesterday afternoon's whale watch travelling together! Had these animals really stayed with each other through the night? Whether they separated overnight or not, these 2 Fin whales were swimming close together and synchronizing surfacings. We even had a close encounter as both animals swam right alongside the boat and just off the pulpit! One look at a 60+ft Fin whale is impressive, let alone a look at 2 of these massive whales!

Our other exciting find this morning was another Humpback whale, but one we have yet to see on Jeffreys Ledge this season. It was Solas. This whale was last documented out on the Ledge on September 8, 2009. After more than 9 months later this whale has returned! Solas was a whale we saw a number of times during the 2009 season and so are happy to report this whale has made it through the winter months and is back to find food.

This afternoon we again were anxious to make our way back to the Ledge to see what surprises we were going to find. It didn't take long to find our first! We came across as very slow moving pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins! This group was spread out over a good distance so as we moved into the area everyone one board could get a chance to watch these whales. At least 100 of these dolphins were surrounding the area and since they appeared to be going nowhere fast we got some great looks. What a nice way to start our trip.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of 3 more species of whales! It was a Whale Grand Slam! 4 species of whales in one single trip. We saw Hornbill the Humpback whale (pictured below). We saw two individual Fin whales and we even saw a Minke whale close to the Isles of Shoals on the way home! Our large whales provided really nice looks for our passengers, all of whom were asking great questions on the ride home. During our travels to and from the Ledge we also saw 2 schools of Atlantic Bluefin tuna. These fish were coming up to the surface of the ocean creating lots of white water and attracting many birds to the area. These birds, mainly seagulls and shearwaters, were going after the small schooling fish the Tuna were chasing and bringing to the surface!

What a few crazy days and the weekend is not even over!