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, August 31, 2010

August 31 - Prince of Whales- Newburyport

Another beautiful day in spite of the weather forecaster's reports of rough seas. It couldn't have been more calm off shore today!
Lots of life on the Ledge today! Two humpbacks (Mogul and Hornbill) were cruising around, sometimes coming quite close to each other.



Minke whales were also scooting by. Then a bit off shore we found several right whales and also a couple of sei whales!! Both of these species are rare for our area!

Our trip home brought even more marine life: a pod of about 50 Atlantic white sided dolphins as well as several harbor porpoises! As we were running a bit late, we didn't have time to stop on these animals but I think we all got some bonus looks in passing.

We also saw a blue shark near the whales, and a couple of harbor seals offshore! A great day of variety today!!

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Calm seas,great sightings on the Atlantic Queen

Ok so we all know about the upcoming "hurricanes" they are predicting for the end of the week, but I must say the water has never been calmer, no other boats in sight and wonderful sightings. If I can give a bit of advice as you head out for a day on the water look on line for a marine forecast, I think you will find it very interesting and you may learn alot about the differences on land and at sea. I guess I feel bad folks are missing out on the fascinating animals covering the ledge, granted we may not get out toward the end of the week but rest assured we do not whale watch in big seas. Well I had another great day on the water! We had Minke's, Harbor Porpoise, Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna, diving Gannets, and seals. For the second day in a row we had a humpback named "Mogul" who was born in 1986, yesterday and today were the first times I have seen this whale, a very large whale I may add! After Labor Day we will run weekends until Columbus Day, check your marine forecast and come out to see us and some fantastic marine life.

August 31st on the Granite State

While it may be the end of August, the weather and the whales, are still going strong! We ended up with 5 different species of baleen whales today. We began our trip with a Fin whale circling the area as this whale was staying under the water for only a few minutes at a time. After a plankton tow from our crew, we realized why this animal was constantly changing direction and circling around. The fine-meshed net collected plenty of plankton! Whether this animal was feeding on the plankton or the small schooling fish feeding on the plankton itself, this whale was definitely enjoying the productivity of Jeffreys Ledge.

As we continued further offshore we ended up finding 2 Minke whales and another baleen species; a Humpback whale. It was Hornbill and while this whale appeared to be moving through the area, we were able to follow it's travel pattern for a bit as this animal would surface for a few breaths before going down on a deeper dive. With some nice looks, we were off again in search of more marine life.

Out in the distance we saw a Sei whale. This whale appeared to be circling and as we changed our course, in between us and the Sei whale, a highly endangered Right whale came to the surface. What a surprise! We sat with our engines off until this whale continued to move past the boat and away from the Sei whale before we were able to ease our way over to our now 5th baleen whale of the trip!

We quickly realized the reason behind the Sei whale's behavior. This whale was actively feeding! We watched as this whale was constantly taking tight turns, rolling on its side, and had its mouth open. We were even lucky enough to see the whale's pleats (or lower jaw) fully extended outward as the whale was utilizing all space in its mouth to gulp in as much food as possible!
Our Sei whale on it's side with it's flipper and a portion of its dorsal fin above the water. Even the extended pleats can be seen just in front of the flipper!

The dorsal fin of our Sei whale

A beautiful day and incredible sightings. Thanks to all who joined us today whether it was your first time or are a seasoned whale watcher. Everyone helped in spotting all kinds of marine life today!

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Monday, August 30, 2010

August 30 - Prince of Whales- Newburyport

What an amazing day! Talk about rarities! We started with a small group of shy harbor porpoises that were hanging out near some bluefin tuna. Since the porpoises skittish, we decided to continue on.

We spotted a blow in the distance. After about 20 consecutive sideways blows, we realized, even from a mile away, that this was a sperm whale!!!!! We pulled up in the area where we saw it dive down and waited and waited....for 25 minutes. Finally it resurfaced but about another mile away. As we approached, it dove again, and this time we didn't feel we could wait another 25 minutes to catch another glimpse of this rare deep diver so we continued on.
Diving sperm whale from a distance

It wasn't long before we saw another blow...and another. Two humpbacks were cruising around the area, and another couple of blows were seen a but further offshore. We spent time with the two humpback whales that were closest to us. Hornbill, first seen in 1977, was behaving surprisingly well for us (he has the reputation of being wily and unpredictable) and was surfacing frequently. Soon, the second humpback who we later identified as Mogul joined Hornbill. Apparently this couple wasn't meant to last as Mogul did a partial breach and the pair split up.

Head breach (or chin breach) by Mogul

Mogul- first seen in 1986

As we were watching the humpbacks, two minke whales were seen scooting around the same area! Minkes have been somewhat scarce lately even though they are normally seen on about 75-80% of our trips and are not endangered.

We continued on to check out the other blows that were seen in the distance. These turned out to be three right whales! WOW! Two were together while the third was a little further out. Critically endangered right whales have been in the area for a few weeks now but they are usually found near Nova Scotia this time of year! With only about 423 in the population, and knowing these whales could be extinct in 50-200 years, seeing these animals is a very special opportunity for all of us.

Heading for home, we passed by a couple more minke whales and I was about to grab my lunch when the captain said to me, "Hey, it's up, and it's right here." I looked up and saw the sperm whale almost exactly where we had left it and it was really close! Holy moly!!! As we said last week when we saw this same whale, this is the rare of the rare around here. It's like seeing a flamingo at your birdfeeder. The last sperm whale seen on Jeffreys Ledge was 15 years ago! And that whale was only in the area for a day. This one has been here for nearly 2 weeks! The best part is that we were so lucky to be passing by when it happened to be breathing- something that this whale only does twice/hour!

Sperm whale dorsal hump and wrinkled skin

Sperm whale flukes- going down for another half hour!

What an awesome day! And thanks to everyone on board for your excellent questions and sincere appreciation for the wildlife we were all lucky enough to see today!

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August 30th, a variety show for the Granite State...

Today's weather was beyond perfect and the whales did not disappoint! We started our trip inshore of the Ledge with a single Fin whale and a Minke. We spent a short time with these whales before continuing closer to the Ledge.

As we continued on, we were surprised by an Ocean sunfish along the surface of the water. The Ocean Sunfish is the largest bony fish species. They are usually found lying more on their side at the surface, with the sun helping them with their digestive process. It is by far one of the most unique creatures that we see during our season.

As we approached a southern area of Jeffrey's Ledge, we saw 2 spouts in the distance. It was 2 Humpback whales. One was further south, so we tried to look at that individual first. We got a quick look at the whale before we realized that it defintiely had travelling on it's mind. This whale was identified as Hornbill, an large adult, first seen in 1977. Since Hornbill was travelling further south, we decided to try and find the other Humpback whale in the area...and we did! It was another adult named Mogul. Mogul was born in 1986 and has not been seen here for quite some time. It was so nice to see Mogul again. Mogul was more interested in feeding, creating several bubble clouds to corral food.

At one point, we were anxiously awaiting Mogul's return to the surface, when we saw two other whales surface in a slightly different location. These 2 whales were travelling together, and as they surfaced we realized what esle we had in the area...2 Northern Right whales! To see one indiviual is amazing, but to have 2 toghether was phenominal. Right whales are the rarest baleen whale on earth, with about 400 left on the planet. Our passengers were treated to Nature's best as we simply shut down our engines and enjoyed all that was around us.

As we were getting ready to leave the area, a spout in the distance caught our turned out to be a THIRD Right whale. A quick glimpse at this whale from afar showed propeller scars along it's left side, evidence of human interaction. A sad truth these whales face when migrating from feeding grounds to breeding grounds and vice versa. The propeller scars may be a key in trying to identify this whale. I'm still going through photos and will update you if any ID's have been made.

A special thanks to everyone who joined us...old friends and new ones alike. I'm wondering what surprises we will find tomorrow...

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Atlantic Queen August 30-What a Day!

It's said variety is the spice of life, from our sightings today that is a true statement. We started of the day with a pod of Harbor porpoise, actually being good, they normally are quite shy and don't get to close. Then to a shy Minke who decided to move off before getting a good look. We also had a big Harbor Seal. As we left those animals we headed out to the ledge and we had 2 Humpback whales!! Finally they have begun to return to the ledge. As we were gazing at these 2
enormous animals I noticed the very distinctive head of not one but two Right whales! As we have posted before they are highly critically endangered! To see one is amazing but 2 life changing. We also had a big Moon Jelly come by the boat, Blue Fin Tuna, 5-7 Minke whales and blows of fin whales all around. What made the day even more amazing was the fact we were all alone,not a boat in site, it was just us and the open ocean and an abundance of marine life, it does not get better than that!!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday 8/29 on the Atlantic Queen

Watching Atlantic white-sided dolphins
Today's weather and seas were gorgeous!  The conditions were extra-special after having a few less-than-ideal Sundays in a row (see this post from last Sunday with a pic of folks all bundled up in rain gear and you'll get the idea). Spirits were high, and the whales were spectacular!

Fin whale
We started out with some great, close looks at a slow-moving minke whale, with another minke nearby.  We then spotted a fin whale that we eventually got some good looks at - it definitely seemed to be chasing some bait, as it was moving erratically, taking short dives and spending little time at the surface.

Then we found some Atlantic white-sided dolphins - a large pod of well over 100 that came close to the boat several times.  We spent awhile watching these small (7-9' long!) toothed whales, and got to see a couple calves swimming next to their mothers.

Atlantic white-sided dolphin

Atlantic white-sided dolphin in hot pursuit of fish
Onward to a blow in the distance, which turned out to be the distinctive v-shaped blow of a right whale. We stayed a respectful distance away from this endangered whale (only 425 are estimated remaining in the world) but did get to see its broad flukes as it gracefully dove before we left.

All that, plus the sunny skies and calm seas were definitely enough to make a trip, but as we headed for home, we spent a solid 15 minutes or more being followed by more Atlantic white-sided dolphins! Not only did they surf in our wake, but they astounded us with several huge leaps - it was almost like watching dolphin fireworks at one point!

What a way to round out the trip. As our busy season starts to wind down, a day like this makes me appreciate even more how fortunate I am to spend so time on a boat in the summer and how lucky we all are to have such a rich variety of marine life in the Gulf of Maine.

Thanks to all who came aboard today!

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August 29 - Prince of Whales- Newburyport

What a surprising day of variety today! We always say we never know what to expect to find each day, and today was evidence of that.

We found a Mola mola (ocean sunfish- largest bony fish species) early in the trip. This was just our 3rd sunfish of the year! We got excellent looks and continued on to Jeffreys Ledge in search of marine mammals.

Ocean Sunfish
We searched and searched. My arms were feeling tired from holding up the binoculars for so long! Two hours had passed since we left the dock and we were getting short on time. To make matters worse, this was the last trip of the summer for our special guests Willy and Pam from Pennsylvania. We couldn't let them go back home without seeing some sort of whale! But then Captain Billy saw a blow.

Even from a distance we could tell this was a right whale! We slowed down and the whale surfaced again, and then lifted its flukes as it went down on a dive. As we waited for it to resurface, Billy saw some splashes further to the east- dolphins! We moved to that area and found ourselves in a huge pod of 200+ Atlantic white sided dolphins all racing around with terns, gannets and shearwaters filling the skies.

Great shearwater taking off

As it was close to the time we needed to leave for home, we spotted another blow in the near distance. Two fin whales were cruising through. One of the two was absolutely huge (exceptional since these whales are the second largest animal to ever live on the planet!).
Huge fin whale!!!

Now it was definitely time to go home. We headed west and soon after leaving the fin whales we saw yet another blow. This was another species of whale- a humpback!!
We intended to get a couple quick looks but then the whale started to feed and we found it impossible to leave! Kickstart- the young humpback whale- was surfacing every minute or 2 with its mouth full of water and food (likely krill and zooplankton). What a spectacular end to our day!


Humpback whale surfacing on its side with its mouth full of food!

So now we really had to head for home. On our trip in we passed by yet another species- a minke whale! And don't forget about the harbor seals! Jeffreys Ledge has always been known for its variety of marine life and today was the perfect example of many species all living and feeding in the same area, sharing the same resources.

Willy and Pam- we will see you soon!

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Saturday on the Atlantic Queen

Having been at to the dock for several days, it was wonderful to get back out on the water. Our first stop we had a Minke whale with 2 Sei whales, these whales were on a mission, traveling at great speeds. We did get a couple of looks though. We got the call about some dolphin a bit further out. Most of the dolphin I have seen this summer have been small pods, not today, the pod was HUGE, over 100 animals, moms with calves and other adults. They were playful, curious, and most of all beautiful! Our passengers were thrilled with the display! There was also a tremendous amount of Common Terns. The photo shows a few taking a rest on a log, getting ready to take flight. We still are going out 7 days a week, come out before school starts!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

August 28 - Prince of Whales- Newburyport

Another beautiful day with two trips today!

Our morning trip gave us nice looks at a group of harbor seals hauled out near the mouth of the Merrimack River. These 5-6 foot long marine mammals are just beginning to return to the river after spending their summer along the coast of Maine.

Harbor Seals resting on rocks

A bit off shore we found our first whale sighting- a pair of sei whales! These rare whales have moved into the area the past few days and we were lucky and happy to see them as they usually are pelagic/offshore whales, spending most of their time 200+ miles from Jeffreys Ledge!

Sei whale dorsal fin

Sei whale left side showing the mouth/jaw line!

Sei whale right side- notice how the right lower jaw is all black as opposed to the same part of the common fin whale that is all white!

We also found a really cool trio of sei whales who were scooting around quickly below the surface but nearby the boat so we could watch their green-tinted shadows racing back and forth underwater!

As we kept going, we found a traveling fin whale, much more common to see than the sei whales, but this whale was on the move and we only got distant looks.

Our afternoon trip did not disappoint either. Two sei whales were circling around not far off shore. The sun glare was a bit intense but we were excited to see these whales that are apparently sticking around the area! Who knows how much longer they will be here...

And then we got a call from our other whale watching friends nearby about a huge pod of Atlantic white sided dolphins. This was by far the largest pod we have seen all summer with over 200 dolphins in the group, and many seabirds as well! Lots of dolphin calves were in this pod- always great to see baby dolphins leaping about! At one point, several boats were with this giant pod and they seemed to enjoy playing in our wakes. Several dolphins were surfing the wake while others were leaping out of the water. One dolphin even jumped higher than the upper deck of one of the other whale watching boats! Amazing!! And much cooler than Sea World!!

Dolphin mother and calf

Jumping dolphin!!!

Some of our favorite passengers on the bow watching for the dolphins to make another close approach!

We passed by a few more sei whales on our way home. It is always nice to see an abundance of life offshore! Can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

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Friday on the Atlantic Queen

Wow! What a perfect day on the ocean, with more species variety than I've seen in awhile.

We started out with a very active pod of  60-80 Atlantic white-sided dolphins - some were slapping their tails on the water, in what might be a feeding maneuver. These toothed whales seemed to be actively pursuing something!

Atlantic white-sided dolphins

Then we moved into sei whale zone - we ended up finding ourselves surrounded by 5 sei whales, with more in the distance! We got terrific looks at these whales, and saw their distinctive, curved dorsal fins and even got to see a good part of the whales' heads as they cruised quickly up to the surface.

The curved, pointed dorsal fin of a sei whale

Two sei whales together!

Sei whale, showing its mouth

Amid all these activity, a juvenile humpback swam by!  This whale proved that humpbacks aren't always the most cooperative species we see - we got one quick look at this whale and then it dove, never to be seen again.

The distinctive "knuckles" on  the humpback's tail stock

We headed offshore to what we thought might be another humpback, and this whale turned out to be one of the rarest large whales in the world - a North Atlantic right whale!

What a day to be on the water - it was especially memorable as my parents and daughter were onboard, along with a crowd that had lots of great questions. Thanks to all who joined us today!

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