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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 31- Prince of Whales

Finally back on the water after taking a bit of a break for Irene (tropical storm).

On our way out we found lots of minke whales in close to shore- at least 10 were all around us at various times in about a 2 square-mile area! Awesome! You could look nearly anywhere around the boat and see a minke popping up! Sadly, one of these whales was recently injured and had a very new and fresh wound on its back and has lost its dorsal fin in the process! Luckily, the whale appeared to be doing well and was acting just like the other 9 in the area.

Minke whale

Then we traveled and traveled, passing many cool sea birds in the process. Three species of shearwaters, Wilson's storm petrels, juvenile laughing gulls, northern gannets and the variety of gulls were seemingly endless. We were searching for a group of sei whales that our friends on the Granite State informed us of. Eventually we found them- a nice group of 4 sei whales, who were sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs and once all together!
Three sei whales

Sei whales and a rainbow blow!

Beautiful day overall with very calm seas!

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August 31, Granite State

Another beautiful day on the water...We started with a sighting of 3 harbor porpoise before the Isles of Shoals and since they can be somewhat elusive around boats, we decided to continue past the islands and see what Jeffrey's Ledge had in store. In total we had 5 Minkes, 11 Sei whales, a blue shark, an ocean sunfish, about 50 Atlantic white sided dolphins and 1 highly endangered Northern Right Whale! The whales were out in full force, and with glassy calm seas once again today, we could see whales along the surface very easily.

It seemed to be that the more area we explored, the more whales we would find. Here are some of my favorite photos from the day...

Our first Minke whale of the day

One of our many Sei whales

A different Sei whale in the area...

This dolphin decided to swim right next to the Granite State

As August comes to a close, we welcome September with all the whale sightings it has to offer! Here's to our fall whale watch season!

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Wednesday August 31, 2011

Finally we were back on the water today after the effects of "Irene" Today was a calm, beautiful day in The Gulf of Maine. We got a call from our friends on The Prince of Whales about minke whales and perhaps a "big" whale. They did not disappoint with there call.
It was difficult to let the passengers know where to look due to so many surfaces from the 5 plus Minke whales we spent time with. Our passengers at the front of the boat got an unbelievable look at the 2ND largest whale in the world, the fin whale as it rose to breathe right under the pulpit! Labor day may be coming but the whales will still be around.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 30th, Granite State

Today was our first day back out on the water, after Hurricane Irene made her way through the area. We didn't know what to expect for weather and whale activity and we were eager to find out. As we left Rye harbor, light winds and blue skies made for ideal conditions and we decided to head to an Eastern area of Jeffrey's Ledge where we have been having great luck with whale activity over the past month. After a big storm comes through, we never really know how the whales are going to be affected. After all they are constantly moving around in search of food regardless and if the food source gets distributed to different areas, that is where they will end up. In total we had 2 minke whales, 3 blue sharks, and about 60 Atlantic white sided dolphins! With glassy sea conditions, it was ideal for viewing dolphins and we were simply happy to be back out on Jeffrey's Ledge!

The weather is looking great for the next several days and we are looking forward to what tomorrow may have in store!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

August 26 Granite State

So Irene may be continuing to make her way up the entire east coast but today on Jeffreys Ledge the whales continued to thrive with quite the plethora of species out there!

This morning we were excited to come across a great group of Atlantic white-sided dolphins to start the trip on. This pod ~65 was just moseying around the area providing a great opportunity to stay with, and enjoy watching, these whales.
There were even a few younger critters in this group, staying side by side the larger adults, and effortlessly staying right in tune with the larger animal's movements.
After spending some time with these whales we picked up some speed and headed closer to Jeffreys Ledge. What was our next type of marine life? More dolphins! We had found another pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Not only was this a different group, but it was a larger and faster swimming pod! These animals were on the move perhaps chasing down some food further under the water as they were creating quite the ruckus for us above ocean level. These dolphins were constant splashing and quickly changing directions all the while having some birds swarming overhead, probably hoping to score some scraps of leftovers!

Atlantic white-sided dolphins on the move

We also knew while watching this group of dolphins it was a different pod than the group we had seen earlier. For one we had travelled a good distance from the previous sighting and while dolphins swim quickly, we would have seen them as they would have had to pass by us on their way to this offshore area. And two, we've been taking identifying photographs of each these animal's dorsal fins, helping us to distinguish individual animals within a particular group. Thanks to our Dolphin ID creator/master, Will, we knew this was a different group. What a nice surprise to see two different groups doing two different behaviors this morning.
While in the area of the dolphins we saw spouts from other whales near by. It was time to go investigate the area. We ended up finding 2 Fin whales moving through the water together.

A familiar Fin whale, #0354, who has returned to Jeffreys Ledge once again!

At first this pair of Fin whales appeared to be doing a bit of travelling as we had to play catch up the first couple times they surfaced together. The 3rd time they returned up from a deeper dive they both started to circle around the area. One whale left a trail of red clouds in the water, digested krill, before circling around once again and heading straight in towards the boat!

Whoa, hello big Fin whale!

Once these two animals popped up again we decided to search a few other areas nearby to see if any other animals were going to make themselves known. What we came into next were more Fin whales. We had made our way into an area where there were at least 5 around as we spotted them all spread out including a pair together, and three singles, scattered in different directions around the boat.

A pair of Fin whales at the surface

Well in a matter of minutes our whales started to form one larger group. First, 3 surfaced and began swimming together. After going on a deeper dive the next time they surfaced there were now 4 Fin whales on the move together. Our last viewing was of all 5 as two surfaced just off our starboard side and suddenly 3 more rose up from the depths of the ocean off our port side. Wow! Check out some of the uniquely shaped dorsal fins and scars found on a few of the Fin whales we watched:

We have only be able to positively identify one of the many Fin whales in this group. Above: Fin whale #0828

So many whales and yet we still had a bit more time out on the water. Our next stop was with yet another species, 2 Sei whales, that were circling around the water together.

Sei whale dorsal fins. Many times these fins are much taller and broader than the dorsal fins found on Fin whales
As we spent time watching these (many times except for recently!), rare sightings, another single Fin whale came through the area. This whale was on the move so we watched the Fin whale pass by while we spent our last bit of time with our other baleen whales, the Sei whales.

On our way home, as we always do, we keep an eye out just in case we happen to come into an area where more whales may be. What a surprise we found as we were heading back to Rye Harbor... PILOT WHALES!!!

Pilot whales are larger than the Atlantic white-sided dolphins we sometimes see and also are a uniform dark grey in color with broad dorsal fins
This group of about a dozen we found are also toothed-whales, and like the Atlantic white-sided dolphins that we come across, these pilot whales also swim in groups or pods. This was our first sightings of this species this year and so of course we veered slightly off course in order to spend just a few minutes with this group before heading back home. Thanks to our hard working crew who spotted these animals adding them to the list of an already stellar trip of whale sightings!

One pilot whale diving underneath the water while a few more surface near by

With such gorgeous conditions this afternoon we knew it would be good conditions for sighting whales, hopefully many of the ones we had seen in the morning, as we made our way back out to some of the same places we had been in the morning. Once again the whales continue to keep us enticed as we ended up seeing some different, and yet still, special sightings. Our first whale was a Fin whale that was taking looooooooooong dives so we decided to give ourselves a bit more time further offshore and moved on.

Our next sighting was much more cooperative. It was a pair of Sei whales, the exact same pair we had seen in the morning, and almost in the exact same spot! Hours had past and yet these two animals were still going strong circling around this particular spot of the ocean continuing to be associated with each other! Spending only minutes under the water, and not using their quick speed to zoom out of the area, (Sei whales are THE fastest swimming whales in the world!) we got some wonderful looks at these sleek creatures. While spending time with these whales we continued to see more spouts out in the distance. With such quality time spent around our Sei whales we decided to check out some of the other wildlife in the area. We ended up finding 2 Fin whales. These whales were spending a bit of time under the water, and doing a bit of travelling, so we continued to attempt to stay with one of these animals in the area. While awaiting for one to resurface, all of a sudden we saw a spout in the distance. Even from just the spout of this animal we knew exactly what it was; a highly endangered North Atlantic Right whale! The spout from these animals actually appears to be a v-shaped exhalation as their blowholes on the top of their heads are so steeply angled in comparison to the nostrils of most of the whales we see, we knew what was around. But there wasn't just one. Further out in the distance, another v-shaped spout occurred! We had just gone from watching two of the largest animals in the world (2 Fin whales) to being in an area where 2 of the rarest whales in our ocean currently resided (2 Right whales). Incredible. Even from out in the distance you could see these whales raise their large tails as they went down for a deeper dive. Beautiful and extremely rare creatures. What a great way to end our day.

Once again it ended up we were not quite done whale watching for the day. On our ride home we ended up intersecting a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins!

A few of these whales were jumping out of the water!

This group of approximately 75 whales were spread out over a vast area of the ocean. You could look down into the water and watch one of these dolphins have no problem keeping up with our moving vessel or look out towards the horizon and see splashing from these whales as they surfaced for a few breaths of air in every direction. Another awesome way to end another unique and special trip.

Even from out in the distance you can see how these dolphins acquired their name: Atlantic white-sided.

Irene will be keeping us off the ocean for a few days as she passes overhead. Who knows what all that churning of the ocean will do to the food around Jeffreys Ledge but we are extremely eager to find out later this week so stay tuned!!!

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Friday, August 26, 2011

August 26- Prince of Whales

Today was our last whale watch for a few days as hurricane/tropical storm Irene is quickly approaching.

Variety was the game today with 5 different species of whales as well as a quick look at a blue shark! A minke whale began the trip. This "small" 25 foot whale was surfacing frequently, showing us its pointed nose. Atlantic white sided dolphins were seen next. This small pod was busy feeding so we continued on.
Atlantic white sided dolphins

Soon we saw some more splashes. Pilot whales!! These whales used to be seen frequently in the late summer/fall, but have been MIA the past few years. Typically, pilot whales feed during the night and are a bit more lazy at the surface during the day but today was the exception. This pod of 15 was on the move and very difficult for us to keep up with!
Pilot whales

As we tried to keep up with the pilot whales, we saw a couple of spouts in the distance. These were fin whales! We tried to get a few looks but these large whales were also on a mission.

Fin whale

Soon, we ran out of time and began to head for home, but this was when our trip really started to get good- a familiar fin whale, Fjord, surfaced on our ride home!
Fin whale, Fjord

Again we decided to keep on to the west when a larger pod of dolphins appeared. These were much more social than the small pod we saw early in the trip. The dolphins were surfing the wake and even jumping out of the water!

Time to go home...again...and of course we spotted more spouts to the west! These were sei whales- another not-common species for Jeffreys Ledge! Though we have been seeing sei whales frequently for the past few weeks, they typically are only seen on about 5% of our trips!
Sei whale spout

Sei whale dorsal fin
Now we were really running late and had to turn west yet again. We did pass by a minke whale on the ride in but otherwise the ocean was quiet. What a great day filled with variety! We are all wondering what the storm will bring, and how the wind and seas will affect the marine life on the Ledge. Looking forward to Tuesday when we can get back out there!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August 23, Granite State

Sometimes it can be the variety of whales that makes a trip or it can be one whale that makes a trip...Today, we experienced both! Variety is the spice of life and we had quite the variety on both trips.

This morning, we were lucky enough to encounter 5 different species of baleen whales, a rarity on Jeffrey's Ledge! We had minke, fin, sei, humpback, and an extremely rare Northern Right whale. Spending quality time with all of these whales throughout our morning was fantastic and having a large crowd on board, made it that more enjoyable! Being able to share our excitement about marine life to our passengers is always a pleasure, and what a trip it turned out to be!
Here is a photo of fin whale #9904, first seen in 1999 and this whale is a known female who's last calf was in 2008! I wonder when she will bring new life to Jeffrey's ledge again?

At one point while watching our fin whale, another whale surface right next to this whale and we thought it may be a calf, but this whale has been seen several times this season and has been by itself every time. As we continued to watch it we realized it was a Sei whale swimming right next to the fin whale. One sei whale turned into two and before I realized it the Fin whale surfaced in between the two sei whales! It was very unusual to see, but awesome at the same time. Here is one of our sei whales from the morning!

We decided to venture further to the east to see what else may be in store for us and we stumbled across a Humpback whale. This humpback was identified as Obelus, a 3 year old humpback who was born to Echo in 2008. This whale was taking short dive intervals and stayed along the surface to a long period of time, enabling us to get great looks at this whale and it was a great way to end our morning trip.

As we left for the afternoon trip, we headed to the same area we were in the morning, hoping for some of the same luck we had in the morning. As we approached the Ledge, we found a nice pod of toothed whales, atlantic white sided dolphins! These active whales kept us quite entertained and what a nice way to start our afternoon trip!

As we made our way further off shore, we saw several whales throughout our travels. We had 2 sei whales in the area, along with several fin whales as well. As we tried to get a few looks at a few different whales in the area, they seemed to be taking long dive intervals and when they were at the surface, they were changing direction quite frequently making it a difficult task. We love having multiple whales in the area, but on occasion, it can be difficult to assess which ones to look at and whales do not always cooperate. They are wild animals afterall and we can never perdict their behavior. Some of the whales must have had travelling on their minds and were most likely looking for more food in the area.

As we were trying to figure out which whales to stay with, we spotted several other spouts on the horizon. We decided to try our luck and investigate what may be out there...and I'm gad we did!

We found a young adult humpback whale, and we decided to see what would happen with this whale. As we were waiting for the whale to resurface, it did so shortly thereafter right next to us off our right side. The whale was heading in our direction, so we shut down our engines and continued to watch this whale as it exhaled, then went on a shallow dive and swam underneath our boat. When whales dive under the boat, they can show up on the other side, or change direction while underneath the water and show back up on the same side they went down on. As we were waiting and looking around for this whale, people on the upperdeck started pointing down towards the water off the left side...then suddenly one of our crew members yelled that it was right underneath us off the left side at 9 o'clock! Literally, this whale was right underneath the boat, simply hanging there for everyone to see! It surfaced slowly and exhaled on everyone aboard! What an amazing sight! We were able to identify this whale as Obelus! It was the same humpback from the morning trip and this whale seemed to be very curious about us! Obelus continued to swim underneath us and switched sides allowing everyone aboard to enjoy this unbelievable experience. As I said earlier, sometimes all it takes is one whale to give you an experience of a lifetime!

Thank you to everyone who joined us today! While spotting the rarest of the baleen whales during the morning, a northern right whale, and having a close encounter with a humpback in the afternoon...what a day it turned out to be!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

August 21 Granite State

You would think all of us aboard the Granite State would become accustomed to what we might see on our whale watches day in and day out on Jeffreys Ledge over the seasons. Well many a time we are just as thoroughly enjoyed as we hope many of you are who join us in search of some of the largest animals on the planet. Today turned out to be a day just like that...

The seas provided bit of of added entertainment today as the winds created quite the rocking motion throughout the day. All of our hardy passengers were great, even the few who couldn't quite keep everything down, as sometimes the roller coaster effect doesn't quite fit into every body's sense of enjoyment. However, as usual, the whales did not disappoint.

This morning we started the trip with a single Sei whale. This whale, while not traveling too far, spent a bit of time underneath the water. Luckily we were able to get some nice close looks at this whale since we were able to track the line of footprints (or flukeprints) this animal kept leaving behind on its travel pattern. While spending time with this whale we started to see spouts further out in the distance and decided to investigate what other whales we had near by.

Our single spout turned into 3! We came across a trio of Fin whales maneuvering the waters together. What a great comparison for all our passengers to relate the size of the Sei whale we had seen just minutes ago to not only one, but 3, of the 2nd largest animals in the world!

One of our Fin whales going on a deeper dive

While spending time with these whales we actually saw one leave a long trail of red clouds in the water; it was whale poop! This animal definitely excreted a lot of waste as the line of red in the water seemed to keep appearing. This whale had recently been feeding on krill! But that wasn't the only excitement we saw from these whales. Just as we watched the cetacean defecation appear on the surface one of the other whales suddenly took an extremely tight turn as it went to go further underneath the water. What did we see next? Only half the tail above the surface of the water, something you definitely don't normally get a chance to see from this species!

Above: You can just barely make out the tip of this whale's dorsal fin on the left as its tail cuts through the water as this whale bends tightly to the right
Below: Hello Fin whale tail!
Even being such incredibly large creatures, it is amazing just how easily one of these mammals can change course almost instantaneously, shifting 60+ tons of whale body with it! Next thing we knew two of our whales came up with gallons of salt water pouring out of their mouths!

Two Fin whales coming in towards the boat as they both surfaced filtering water our of their mouths!

These animals had just scooped up lots of food in the water and were currently straining all the salt water through their baleen plates. What a sight! Our trio gave our passengers a great "show" as these animals were really just going about their daily activities this morning. Fantastic.

This afternoon we had a bit of another surprise. We ended up seeing a surface active group of highly endangered North Atlantic Right whales. Suddenly out in the distance we saw large dark grey objects appear out of the water. The whales were rolling over and frolicking with each other. To know you are near by one of these extremely rare whales (less than 500 left in their entire population!) is quite the humbling moment but knowing there were a few creating quite the disturbance at the surface was astonishing. All of us on board definitely were not anticipating the activity we witnessed today. It truly goes to show you that wildlife really does hold the upper-hand out in the open ocean and venturing out to catch a glimpse of wildlife, especially such large mammals, can be a wondrous experience no matter what the behaviors.

One of our familiar Fin whale's who continues to be spotted traveling with at least one other associated Fin whale near by over the course of this season!

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