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, July 31, 2010

July 31- Prince of Whales- Newburyport

Today, our morning and afternoon trips were nearly identical, which is a rarity. Covering a lot of territory on the ledge, we found Pinball, a 21-year-old humpback whale on both trips! In the morning, she was moving steadily to the south, while in the afternoon she was heading east. What makes this sighting extra-cool is that her calf from 2000 (Whirlygig) was seen the past 2 days. Looks like Whirlygig is following its mother's lead on where to go and when!


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July 31 on the Granite State

Within the first 30 minutes of our whale watch today we had spotted a whale. It was a large Fin whale. This animal was within 5 miles of land and we were shocked at how far inshore one of the second largest animal's in the world was currently at the surface.

Our Fin whale going on a deeper dive with the coastline of New Hampshire in the background

It did not take long to realize this whale was "passing through" the area. The fact that this whale suddenly appeared out of nowhere, surfaced for 2 breaths, and then was under the water for 15 minutes was just the beginning. The next time this animal returned to the surface it was well in the distance! We had to make our way up to the area of this animal (and did so) just before it went down on another deeper dive. This whale was clearly on a mission, heading in a constant direction, and moving at a good speed. We attempted to wait for this whale to come back up for another look but after waiting 15 more minutes with still no sign of this whale anywhere nearby, and still very much inshore of Jeffreys Ledge, we decided to press on to give ourselves more time in the offshore waters.

As we approached the Ledge we got word of a whale spout not too far from our current location. Our offshore fishing friends had seen a whale and so we altered course and headed to the reported whale. When we arrived our friends on the Prince of Whales were getting a chance to spend time with this animal. We were both able to spend some time with this Humpback whale which turned out to be Pinball. This whale, born in 1989, is 21 yrs old and an Adopt-A-Whale creature for the Blue Ocean Society. While we have seen this whale on Jeffreys Ledge already this season, it has been just over 3 weeks since it's last sighting on the Ledge! As Pinball probably ventured off to other feeding areas in the Gulf of Maine over the past few weeks, regardless of her recent travels, it was wonderful to have her back in the area!

Pinball raising her tail as she heads down deeper in the water column

This afternoon we started with a real quick look at a Minke whale. This animal only surfaced twice before disappearing under the water, and with no luck resighting this whale, we continued on our way. As we headed further offshore we saw spouts from whales out in the distance. We headed to that area and soon realized we were seeing 3 spouts from whales out on the horizon. While we ended up a bit further from Rye Harbor than we were hoping, the extra few miles were well worth it. We ended up watching 3 large Fin whales!

One of the dorsal fin's of our Fin whale trio!

These animals were associated with each other, meaning they were moving through the water together, going down on deep dives together and surfacing next to each other! This was actually the first time this entire season we have seen THREE Fin whales on the move together! Such an amazing sight to watch these massive beasts glide through the water with such ease and power all at the same time. We were able to get some great looks, especially just before we left, as all 3 Fin whales surfaced right alongside the boat, took a handful of breaths, and then arched their large bodies to go into the depths of the ocean.

If that wasn't enough of a way to end our trip, on our way back towards the Harbor we came across a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins! What a treat. These whales were also on the move, heading in the opposite direction of where we needed to travel, but we decided to divert course ever so quickly to allow our passengers a chance to get a look at these whales.
It was a great day talking to our passengers from all over the world. Whether you were locals to the area, folks from the East Coast, or visitors from Switzerland and Germany it was wonderful having you all join us for another successful day of whale watching on Jeffreys Ledge!

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July 30 Atlantic Queen

The conditions could not have been better for whale watching today. Again our journey was a long one. After searching we did come across an 8 year old Humpback whale named "Lutris" who was born in 2002, it's mom's name is "Lava" who was first seen in 1986! We also had another Blue Shark head right at our pulpit and another rounded dorsal off in the distance, perhaps a Mako? Come out and see for your self!

Friday, July 30, 2010

July 30- Prince of Whales- Newburyport

We never know what we will find our our trips, or where it will be.
This morning we found a couple of very nice minke whales near shore, and then a very mellow pod of Atlantic white sided dolphins. We actually shut down the boat while the dolphins were surfacing all around us! What a great opportunity for "quiet time" with these animals! We could hear each little spout as well as the sounds of the water rolling off their backs! Very cool!

We then spotted a blow near by but never actually saw what the whale was who was doing the blowing! Very elusive....
We headed for home and were surprised to find the humpback whale, Whirlygig, again! We saw this whale while heading home yesterday afternoon and thought it was well out of the area by now. Nope...this whale was still around, and apparently looking for a friend. It surfaced once close to us so we shut the engines down. What happened next was ultra-surprising! Whirlygig, a 10 year old whale, decided to do some people watching!!! S/he continually surfaced within inches of the boat for 10 minutes, sometimes having half of its body visible to us while the other half was under the boat! With a kick of its tail, this whale finally decided it was time to go. After a couple quick head breaches (like a belly flop) this whale was on its way but what an amazing look into the life of a whale it was in the meantime!Whirlygig looking at people

Whirlygig's nose poking out!

Whirlygig- leaving the area

The afternoon trip proved just as exciting but not nearly as close to shore. We had to travel 32 miles offshore just to see a whale. But in that area, several whales were about, and feeding!

The first, another humpback, was Lutris, named for a sea otter-shaped marking on its right fluke (Enhydra lutris is the scientific name for sea otter). This whale was certainly feeding and came up close to us several times as it was catching its lunch.

Lutris, the humpback whale, feeding

Just past the humpback whale was a huge fin whale!
Check out the rainbow in the blow of this fin whale!
This animal looked very familiar to me but it wasn't until I could check our catalog that I remembered who it was- fin whale # 0821 (yet to be named), first seen on Jeffreys Ledge in 2008.

Fin whale #0821
Although it was a long ride home, we still searched for more marine life. A few schools of bluefin tuna were splashing about, and several shearwaters and gannets were seen, but no more mammals, that we saw anyway!

Thanks to all of you who supported our mission of conservation, education and research today! Be sure to visit our website to adopt your own whale or become a member of BOS! See you again soon!

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July 30 on the Granite State

This morning we started with a group of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. While they all seemed to be spread out over a large portion of ocean, there were still around 30-40 whales surrounding the boat. A few of the dolphins had a great time swimming along with the boat just off the pulpit (or front of the boat) as our passengers were treated to some very skillful maneuvering from these animals as they sped through the water keeping up with us.

We continued further offshore and came into an area where we became surrounded by a few larger whales. We first spent some time with a single Fin whale circling the area. While in the area with our Fin whale we also got an incredible look at a Blue Shark. This shark came swimming in towards the boat before realizing a large vessel was nearby, and quickly changed course 90-degrees away from out boat, swimming further under the water. Not too far from our Fin whale, we saw exhalations from two more animals and wanted to check out those whales before we were out of time.

We soon became surrounded by two large Fin whales! These whales ended up on either side of the boat. We were in the middle of a Fin whale sandwich. How many people can ever say that?!?
Our two Fin whales on either side of the boat. Notice the ever so slight difference in the shape of both these dorsal fins
It was awesome to watch both of these animals as they surfaced alongside the boat, realizing just how incredibly large these whales are (60+ ft long for each whale)!

Our course back towards Rye Harbor in the morning also brought us a sighting of another pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. This group was a bit smaller than our first group, about 15 individuals this time, that seamlessly moved through the water.

Our afternoon whale watch brought us to the same area we had gone in the morning to see whales. While it was a bit of a ride out to the cetaceans we were treated to some great behaviors from our whales. We first spent some time with Lutris, the Humpback whale. This animal was staying under the water for minutes, only 3-5, as compared to average dive times of about 8-10 minutes for animals seen on the feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine. Not only was this whale at the surface often, it was coming up filtering salt water out of its mouth! Multiple times this whale would have its lower jaw completely puffed out, indicating a huge amount of salt water and food in this animal's mouth! After watching Lutris circle the area and continue to feed under the water we got a bit of a surprise; whale defecation!

Lutris diving under the water and leaving a red cloud!

Lutris apparently needed to get rid of some excess waste and while going on a deeper dive, took that chance to dimiss that substance from itself. While it may seem a bit strange to be excited about whale defecation we know what this whale had recently been feeding on based on the coloration of the leftover waste at the surface. The cloud in the water was bright red, a sign of leftover krill!

As we watched Lutris continue to move around the area we also got a chance to see two other whales. Both of these whales were Fin whales. One happened to cruise through the area where Lutris was and so got a chance to see both species surface near the boat. What an amazing opportunity to see two types of whales and how drastically different their body shapes can be. A very sleek, and extremely large, Fin whale with a robust, large flippered, Humpback whale.

It was a pleasure chatting with all of our passengers, as we have had some incredible and intriguing visitors recently, and await the chance to meet more folks when we head back out to sea tomorrow!

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29- Prince of Whales- Newburyport

What an awesome day leaving Newburyport this afternoon! I have to admit, I wasn't looking forward to whale watching today (sounds like a chore, doesn't it??). Yesterday we drove around for 5 hours and didn't see a thing. I really didn't want to go back out there. But I should know better. Getting skunked (not seeing any whales) happens from time to time and is all part of watching for wildlife.

First we found a very frisky pod of Atlantic white sided dolphins. These little "whales" were quite active and lots of calves were in the pod too! This is what we'd call a nursery pod. A few large males were in this pod too, apparently trying to show their dominance to us- one breached (jumped) several times right next to our bow, and landing in a big belly flop!

Atlantic white sided dolphin

Soon after passing off the pod to our friends on the Atlantic Queen, we found a minke whale. It was a bit elusive at first but soon we were able to get some great looks. Another minke whale was seen a little while later- great day on the water!

Minke Whale
We were out of time and were heading home, hoping to see more but satisfied with the day, especially after not seeing anything yesterday.

Driving into the west, I saw a spout and some white water in front of us. As we got a little closer, I saw it was a humpback whale kick-feeding! We are used to seeing minkes and fin whales close to shore, but not usually humpbacks! What a great surprise! Kick-feeding is when the whale kicks its tail on the surface, creating a disturbance in the water and possibly stunning the small fish. Then the whale blows a cloud or ring of bubbles in the same spot, and typically comes up in all that disturbed water with its mouth wide open, attempting to catch some of its required daily calories!

The flukes looked somewhat familiar but I knew we hadn't seen this whale around here yet this summer. Looking at our catalog on the way home, I realized our active friend was Whirlygig, a 10 year old humpback born to Pinball in 2000! We had seen this whale as a calf in 2000, but I don' think I have seen it since then.


Kick-feeding- check out all that splashing!

Open mouth at the surface

A view down the blowholes of a whale

A fabulous end to a lovely afternoon! Just goes to show we never know what we will find out there from day to day!!

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Atlantic Queen July 29

Dolphin were the toothed whale of the day. Thank you to our friends on The Prince of Whales for the call about the location of the dolphin. They were a playful bunch with alot of new calves in the mix. As we waited on the dock our crew and myself were watching all the bait around the boat, a few Striped Bass came into the ball of fish for a quick bite.

A day in the life of a Fin whale...

Yesterday was all about the Fin Whale aboard the Granite State. During the day we found several Fin whales, but our highlights included finding an adult female and her new calf. I find it truely amazing to see moms with their new babies. We still don't know where fin whales are born, but seeing new life on Jeffrey's Ledge is always a fantastic sight! To realize that this calf made it through a winter and is now feeding with it's mother is an amazing triumph. While the calf starts to learn feeding behaviors from it's mother, it will continue to nurse all summer long.
The adult female was identified as Fin whale #0838. This whale has yet to be named, but was first seen in 2008. Here she is photographed below. The first photo is her by herself and then with her calf.

Fin whales are identified by two features, their dorsal fin shape and their chevron. The chevron is a silvery/white pattern on their back located right past the whales blowholes. I was struck by the brightness and beautiful pattern that the calf has. It's hard to know if this pattern will darken over time. With this chevron pattern being so bright, we can actually identify who the mother is, even if we see the calf first! The calf is photographed below.

I want to thank all our passengers for joining us. Whether the whales are far away or closer inshore, it's always an adventure searching for whales! The weather is suppose to be great this coming weekend and I hope to see you on board!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A beautiful day on the Atalntic Queen

What a day on the water! We could see for miles, calm seas and great passengers from Austria and Bangladesh. We didn't have to travel as far as days past which made our crew and passengers very happy. Our Humpback whale today was very busy below the water searching for food. This whale stayed down for 16 minute dives each time it went down but each time it came up to breathe the breathes increased. Regardless of how long it stayed down it was wonderful to spend time with this animal. We had ALOT of tuna in the area luckily for them no tuna boats to be seen! We did come across a small pod of Atlantic Whit Sided Dolphin, always a joy to see. Our summer intern took the reins today and spoke to our sold out crowd, nice job Jenny! Michell Olsen got a great sample of plankton at the dock and again 23 miles off shore and passengers were amazed at the microscopic plants ans animals whales eat!

July 27 on the Granite State

A crisp horizon, not too much wind, and sunny skies was a great way to start our trip this morning. We did plenty of searching on our way out towards Jeffreys Ledge and then continued to search once we got there. Whales we have been seeing over the past few days were yet again no where in sight and so we pressed on to check out some other areas on and around the Ledge for whale activity. Just before we were out of time for further exploration out in the distance, not too far away, there was a whale spout!

Well one spout turned into two and then into three. Before we knew it there were 5 Fin whales in the area. We spotted two animals moving through the water together and decided to spend our time with those whales. Not only were they two large Fin whales on the move together we were able to identify one of them in the pair. It was Fin whale #0622 which I believe is the first sighting for this animal on Jeffreys Ledge this year.
The dorsal fins of Fin whale #0622 above and the still unidentified second Fin whale below

What and exciting find! While we have been unable to identify the second Fin whale we watched, it will be interesting to find out if both these animals are frequent visitors to the Ledge, or if #0622 was associated with a Fin whale the Blue Ocean Society researchers have yet to document.

This afternoon the wind calmed down even more and conditions were very pleasant on the ocean. It was great conditions for spotting our first cetaceans of the afternoon, a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins! It turned out we came across two pods of these animals during our travels today, totally around 20-25 of these whales.

We too got a chance to spend some time with the same Humpback whale the Prince of Whales (and the Atlantic Queen II) watched. This animal was definitely showcasing its ability to hold its breath for long periods of time! One surfacing, after spending 15 minutes underneath the water, came up for 2 breaths before going on another deeper dive! Incredible how these animals, being mammals just like us, have adapted to living their lives in a completely different world than us humans. They spend the majority of their lives under the water, a place where we would not survive for much longer than seconds before needing a breath, and where some of these whales can hold their breath for up to an hour! Amazing.

More Bluefin Tuna splashing at the surface, some Harbor porpoise, a Minke whale, and even a sighting of a Gray Seal (a mile from Rye Harbor) rounded out our trips today. Today was a great way to avoid the heat on land and spot marine activity offshore!

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July 27- Prince of Whales- Newburyport

After a long day of searching in windy and rough conditions yesterday, we were greeted by shockingly calm seas this afternoon. Heading out to the ledge, we passed by many schools of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna! These large fish (up to 1000 pounds) were splashing all over, trying to catch some smaller fish for lunch.

As we were watching the tuna, our special guest Mr. Mercer pointed out a minke whale in the area. We attempted to get some looks at it but the minke whale had other things in mind which did not include being looked at by at 95-foot boat. We never did relocate this whale, just showing us again how fickle nature can be.

Then we found some splashes and fins that looked different from the tuna...these were Atlantic white sided dolphins! Hooray!

These dolphins are residents of the Gulf of Maine but only seen on about 20% of our trips!

Another shy minke appeared and soon disappeared...and then we got word from another whale watch boat in the area that a humpback whale was afoot. This large whale was apparently practicing for the winter breath-holding Olympics since it was staying under water for 14-17 minutes!

Though we are still unsure of who this whale is, we will continue to consult our catalogs to figure that out! Beautiful day on the water! Thanks for joining us!

***UPDATE***Thanks to a distant shot of this whale's tail from Patty Adell on the Atlantic Queen, we have identified our long-diving humpback as Wy! Wy was first seen in 1980, making him AT LEAST 30 years old!! Thanks Patty!

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