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, October 13, 2012

October 13 Granite State

The sad news: today marks the end of the 2012 season for us aboard the Granite State.  The good news: whales continue to swim around our small portion of the expansive Gulf of Maine which thus enabled us to end the season with plenty to look at!  2 Minke whales, a Lion's Mane Jellyfish, and 10 Humpback whales certainly kept the attention on the marine life and slightly distracted us from the chilly temperatures known to be present in mid-October out on the open ocean.

After travelling only 10 miles from Rye Harbor we altered course for the captain had spotted a few spouts.  Our first whales of the day were two Humpback whales.  Owl and Churn were on the move together.  Owl has been a recent frequenter to our area over the last 10 days but it has been 7 weeks since we last saw Churn! 

Amazing how these mammals can pass on through the area at some point over the course of the year, are sighted for a day or two, and then depart for days/months only to once again return to a particular area.  Where did this whale travel to? Why did it come back? How long will it remain in the area?  With all the knowledge we have learned over the years from researchers watching, collecting, and recording information regarding these mammals we still have a lot to uncover.  All the more reason to continue venturing out to Jeffreys Ledge year after year!  With a few more looks at this pair we were about to leave when something was spotted not to far away.  A Lion's Mane Jellyfish was moving around just below the surface.
I do promise this "red blob" is actually a Lion's Mane Jellyfish alive and moving through the ocean :)

This is only the second time we have ever seen one of these jellyfish and they certainly are cool to look at.  With the wind creating some wave action it was a bit tricky to capture a fun photo of it but we tried to make sure everyone around the whole boat could catch a quick glimpse at this large marine life before leaving it to continue on with its day.  As we eased our way from the Lion's Mane and the two Humpback whales we began to head over towards where we were seeing a few other exhalations just out in the distance. 

Next stop, two more Humpback whales.  Jabiru was moving through the area in tandem with another Humpback whale.  We actually never saw either one of these whales bring their tails above the waterline (to hopefully capture some of that black and white pigmentation pattern unique to each Humpback whale) but since these whales are wild animals we only get to see what the whales want us to see.  Many times the whales do not need that extra lift of a tail to go further down in the water column and so instead we see a strong arch and that is that.  Sometimes however, we are lucky enough to see some of the same whales over the years, or over the course of a single season, and begin to recognize a whale just based on its dorsal fin.  Such was the case with Jabiru as this whale, at least to my eye, has such a low-profile dorsal fin that many times a quick look at it and low and behold Jabiru is close by. 
Jabiru's dorsal fin

We are still working on figuring out exactly who Jabiru's friend may be and will of course let you know if/when we have any news!
It takes a bit more time but we can sometimes identify Humpback whales from their dorsal fins.  Hopefully we will find a match for you!

With our friends aboard the Prince of Whales also out in the area searching for whales we both started to see spouts from a tight-knit group.  More whales were out in the distance.  We made our way towards the spouts as we passed by another non-fluking Humpback whale before we began to ease into the area as the group of whales were down on a deeper dive.  Eventually a whale surfaced.  Another Humpback whale was in the area.  We watched this whale for a while and wondered where all the other spouts/whales had gone as we continued to watch this single whale move around.  Suddenly, we knew the answer.  One whale instantly turned into 3 Humpback whales side by side!  Not only was it great to see this trio, but wow(!) they were on the move!  Not quite sure what was causing these whales to charge through the water (maybe darting around each other, or perhaps chasing after food) but these whales were crazy to watch.  One moment they would be swimming in one direction and then whack!  Suddenly a 20+ ton whale would appear to slam on the brakes and push through the water in a completely different direction!  White water continued to be created as the swish of these whales tails would move these mammals in circles in every which direction. 
Incoming Humpback whale!

We ended up not even moving at one point as the whales originally were swimming along with us, then swam directly in towards us, then drastically altered course only to drastically alter course once again moments later!  It was quite the sight to see.  Eventually our trio began moving in a particular direction and eventually we got the chance to see each whale's tail above the water.  Turns out Grommet, Chromosome, and Buzzard were creating quite the ruckus. 

We even got a quick look at Buzzard's flipper while in all the commotion Buzzard decided to roll over on its side.  It was a great way to wrap up the trip.
Buzzard's white flipper; the longest flipper for any type of whale in the whale-world!

However, it turned out we had one last stop before making our way back to Rye Harbor.  Another pair of Humpback whales surfaced close by as we were making our way back to the mainland.  Tornado and her calf were also spending some time inshore of Jeffreys Ledge.  Nothing like a mother and her calf to end the day with as these two whales effortlessly swam by.
Tornado and her calf at the surface
Tornado going beneath the ocean's surface as she swims just a few miles beyond the Isles of Shoals (in the background)

Many thanks to all who have joined us over the season and shared in so many memorable moments this year.  It has been quite the year as for the first time in Granite State history we saw whales on every one of our 167 trips this season.  Lots of trips and lots of whales has made the 2012 season a very special season.  Thanks again to all of you and we look forward to seeing you in 2013!

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Prince of Whales October 8

Happy Columbus Day!

Today was another stellar day, fabulous whales and a beautiful, crisp fall day. Once again the whales were not far from shore, the whales were again sleepy but they did wake up and were watching us once again.
Tornado's 2012 calf

Once again Tornado's calf stole the show, this calf is so much fun to spend time with, he/she is curious, very fond of its mom and our boat!

Tornado's open blow holes
calf fluke

Tornado's calf even fluked for us!  The pigmentation will be permanent in about 2 years when this calf will be named.

Our whales were in male female groups again,but Patches was traveling alone, Tornado and calf had a friend that we still need to ID.  Spoon and Sword were in close contact today as were Partition and Chromosome. What is interesting is these whales have been in the same general area but there was no food present, so why are they there?  Have they been feeding off shore at night then moving closer to shore in the morning?  Perhaps one day will will have all the answers to these puzzling questions, but for now we can only wonder,all I know is I will miss going out to see whales on a daily basis and I will count the days until May of 2013.

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

October 7 Granite State

Today was a quintessential fall whale watch.  Yes it was chilly, but the crisp clean air allowed for great conditions to see for miles as many friends, family, and excited folks were poised and ready for signs of whale life.  Some inshore splashes provided a few quick looks at some Harbor porpoise and even a HUGE school of Bluefin Tuna as we pressed on towards Jeffreys Ledge.

Soon we drastically altered course as we sighted spouts a few miles away.  A pair of Humpback whales were in the area.  Today's groupings of whales (as our friends from the Prince of Whales also pointed out in their blog today) even though we've been seeing many of the same animals over the past several days, the associations continuously keep changing and today was no exception.  First pair: Chromosome and Slingshot.  These whales originally were on the move but eventually slowed down their movements as Chromosome started to nap while Slingshot meandered close by.
Slingshot and Chromosome swimming around together

Next we made our way to another Humpback whale: Patches.  A Minke whale surfaced out in the distance and so we got the chance to catch a quick look at that whale as we awaited for Patches to surface once again.  This whale was just circling around the area so we got some nice looks before we were off once again. 

We did a bit of searching and with no signs of whale life we needed to think about turning for home when suddenly a whale surfaced just up ahead of us.  A single Humpback whale was passing through the area.  However it didn't take long to realize exactly who this whale was.  The scarred dorsal fin and uniquely-shaped tail was verification that we were crossing paths with Slingshot once again.  But where had Chromosome disappeared to?  Only one whale was taking breaths at the surface.  Slingshot and Chromosome had parted ways at some point and now we were just witness to this single animal in the area.  We were about to spend a bit more time with Slingshot and then head for home when word on the radio informed us that whales were just a few miles away.  We knew with the sun disappearing behind the clouds and the breeze picking up that it was chilly out on the water, but we wanted to make the extra effort to quickly see the reported whales close by and then truly turn for home.

The whales were a trio of Humpback whales.  Tornado, her calf, and Partition were on the move together.  Most of the time we watched Partition and Tornado's calf rest at the surface but the calf became a bit squiggly at one point when this whale decided to roll on its back.  As it did so this whale's flipper lifted high into the air.
Tornado's calf "small" flipper!
Even from a calf a whale's flipper is impressive to see above the waterline.  As effortlessly as the flipper was visible it disappeared just as quickly as the calf continued to roll right-side-up and continue swimming with the two adults.
Tornado, Tornado's calf, and Partition moving through the area
More often than not we watched Tornado's calf spend its time closer to Partition than Tornado today.  Then again Tornado did not surface as often as Partition so maybe one whale was "whale-sitting" while Mom was searching for food.  Not a fact, just a theory.

On our ride home we had one more unexpected diversion as just off our port side two more Humpback whales surfaced together.  Wait a second, we've seen that dorsal fin!  Chromosome was part of a pair but in such a short time period this whale was now associated with a completely different whale.  Barbell (who had not even been seen at all today!) was now swimming in tandem with Chromosome. 
Hello Barbell.  What direction did you swim in from?

How quickly whale bonds can form and fissile is such short time frames.  We have no idea why these animals group up in the first place and were very much intrigued to witness Chromosome make the rounds to different whales in the area especially ones we didn't even know to be close by to begin with!
Chromosome (above and below) was certainly the "socialite" throughout the day
Wonder how long Chromosome and Barbell remained associated with each other, and if any other whale joined in the fun, or if one of the two found different "friends" to swim near soon after encountering this pair?  So many questions, such a big ocean, and such a small look into the lives of these animals.

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October 7 Prince of Whales

Beautiful fall day on the ocean today! Although it was overcast, the seas had calmed immensely since yesterday, making for a more pleasant whale watching experience.

We headed back to the area we found whales in yesterday and was happy to see that some of the same whales were around, and some new friends had joined in.  The first whales we came upon were Slingshot and Chromosome. Yesterday Chromosome was hanging out with the ladies- Spoon, Partition and Owl. Today he and Slingshot (likely a male) were chilling and acting fairly calm until Slingshot tail-breached, throwing his lower body out of the water!
Slingshot tail-breaching

Slingshot's unique dorsal fin

As we were watching this pair, a minke whale surfaced close by. Then we moved on to find a single humpback whale, Patches! This mellow male was just cruising along, slowly traveling to the NW, not caring at all that a huge whale watch boat with 100 people on board was sneaking up on it!

Patches crossing our bow!
Patches surfaced a couple of times with mud on his nose and flukes, evidence that he had been bottom-feeding! We rarely see that here on Jeffreys Ledge!

As we were about to leave, another minke whale popped up behind us, and then we heard that a few more whales were spotted just a short distance away.  We found a trio of humpbacks including Tornado, her calf, and escort Partition! Yesterday Partition was hanging out with Chromosome and Spoon (and later Owl)! Funny how these whales seem so social yet we know so little about what it all means. Tornado's calf was just as wiggly as it has been all season and often surfaced next to Partition instead of Tornado- interesting behavior for a calf!
Tornado's 2012 calf!
Partition and Tornado's 2012 calf, just under a year old and already showing scars from being entangled :(

Today was certainly a nice day on the ocean, especially for October! Thanks to our hearty passengers for braving the chilly weather with us!

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Atlantic Queen October 6

After reading the blogs from our friends on the Granite State and The Prince of Whales it's clear the sea's were a bit "snappy" yesterday.  Luckily the whales didn't mind it a bit,they actually seem to enjoy the "motion in the ocean"  Our day was filled with humpback whales and a very small group of Atlantic white-sided dolphin,another day we saw dolphin among humpbacks.
Pectoral flipper
Partition and Chromosome "tail breaching"
Lately all of our humpbacks have been in groups of males and females, and we have have witnessed some of our females acting irritated by the approach of males,as we saw yesterday.  It is so cool to see these behaviors and take an educated guess on what may be happening with these groups. 

Today was the last trip for the 2012 season on The Atlantic Queen,the crew and all of us from the Blue Ocean Society want to thank evertone who joined us for what was a phenomenal season, though everyday is different and some better than others, this season did not disappoint.

Be sure to join us next season to see what females come back with new calves,wish them well and always be ocean minded.

 See you all next Spring!

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

October 6 Granite State

Even though the ocean itself made for some extra motion while out on the water today our hardy passengers were undeterred as we spent time watching all kinds of whales today.  Our grand total for the day was a "Grand Slam"  of species (4 to be exact) of a Fin whale, Minke whale, pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins, and 7 Humpback whales!

We were delighted to see a Fin whale for our first sighting of the day for Fin whales have seemed to be a bit sparse recently.  This whale was spending a bit of time under the water and only surfacing for a few breaths at a time but this "greyhound of the sea" certainly wasn't moving around too quickly.  One of the second largest animals in the world was circling around the area before it began to head in a direction opposite of where we wanted to make our way towards.  With a few more breaths of air we watched as this whale continued on with its day and we decided to continued on with ours.  Soon another spout was spotted just ahead of us.

A different species was in the area.  It was a Humpback whale.  As this whale swam at the surface we quickly realized this was another new visitor to Jeffreys Ledge.  This whale's dorsal fin was so interestingly shaped and scarred that even without seeing the black and white pattern on this whale's tail we knew a new whale was in our midst. 
Notchy's very unique dorsal fin
Unfortunately the entire time we watched this whale, as it went on a deeper dive, this animal would just barely bring its tail to the surface of the ocean.  Luckily our whale-wise crew member had an inkling as to who it might be.  Once getting back on land and verifying the tail we indeed knew who we spent time watching today.  Notchy the Humpback whale was in our area!  This whale spent most of the time circling around and just before leaving we were greeted to an extra "present" left at the surface.  A red cloud began to form as Notchy went on a deeper dive.  We had whale poop!  Looks like Notchy had recently had been consuming krill and was getting rid of some digested waste!  Definitely not something many people expect, or normally, get a chance to see.  We left Notchy to continue circling around and soon we were off again to do some more exploring.  Soon word on the radio from our fellow whale watching friends aboard the Prince of Whales had a few whales around.

We made our way to the area and soon became surrounded by whale life.  We initially saw at least 6 Humpback whales near by.  These animals were separated into two groups of three and as we awaited for them all to resurface more whale activity became apparent close by.  A group of Atlantic white-sided dolphins were coming in towards us.  Suddenly we had dolphins surfacing all around us!  These whales were constantly changing direction and charging up and down the waves.  This particular pod was a blast to watch.  They would travel and then just as quickly turn in the complete opposite direction and swim right in towards us and right alongside the boat.  What a fun sighting!
Atlantic white-sided dolphins on the move right into the waves
Dolphins "flying" through the area
In between all this activity we slowly made our way over towards some of the Humpback whales.  This group was a pair and as they swam through the area, the dorsal fin from one of these whales instantly was recognized.  Even without seeing this whale's tail we knew another Humpback whale had come to Jeffreys Ledge.  Sword was back!  This whale has yet to be seen this season in our area and low and behold it was swimming with another whale we've seen on Jeffreys Ledge in the past.  Grommet was right alongside Sword.  It was great seeing more familiar tail patterns close to home!
Sword's exhalation is visible just beyond Grommet's tail

Our last looks of the day were spent with another group of Humpback whales.  Turns out Owl, Spoon, Chromosome, and Partition were all side by side. 
Owl, Chromosome, and Partition on the move together
Spoon and Chromosome
Owl, Spoon, and Partition currently at the surface
Over the past few days these whales have been in some combination of association with each other and only today did we get the chance to witness all of these adult whales moving in synchrony with each other.  What a way to end a day full wildlife everywhere.
Owl and Spoon both in the process of swimming further down into the depths of the ocean

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October 6 Prince of Whales

In spite of the building wind and seas today, we had a fantastic whale watch!  Granted, I personally haven't been on the water in two weeks, so seeing anything for me would have been fantastic. But it truly was an awesome day for whales. We began our day with sightings of 3 species, though these proved all a bit elusive. The group of harbor porpoises with diving gannets was cool to watch until the porpoises got a bit skittish and took off. Next up was a huge fin whale that was sporadic at best, and then a quick, yet close, look at a minke whale. We continued on and saw a big splash about 2 miles in front of us! As we got closer we saw a blow. Then 2 blows, then 3.... At least seven humpback whales were in the area!!
Humpback whales Spoon, Chromosome and Partition
The first trio proved to be Spoon, Chromosome and Partition. It always amazes me to think of how much we don't know about whale social behaviors. Each time these three whales dove down, they would always come back up in the same positions relative to each other!
Chromosome and Partition (see the injury near her tail?)

 Then another trio of humpbacks appeared. We got a few distant looks- enough to know this group consisted of Owl, Sword and Grommet (later ID'ed by the Granite State).  Some Atlantic white sided dolphins were also milling about  but were not coming in too closely to the whales.
Humpback coming towards us!

As we attempted to keep track of the 2 groups, the whales had other ideas and apparently it was time to try to fool us. Owl left her group and joined up with Spoon, Chromosome and Partition. At one point, it seemed as if she was chasing Chromosome (the only male in this group) away! But Chromosome stood his territory and came right back in so we ended up with 4 whales all side by side! Awesome!!  At one point, when the whales were all at the surface and lined up, Owl tail breached right next to Spoon, my all-time favorite humpback!
Four humpbacks! Owl joined our trio!

Owl about to tail-breach next to Spoon!

Such a great day! For anyone who wants to adopt Owl, or one of her friends, and didn't get a chance to do so today, be sure to find her on our website  

Also of interest were the injuries we noticed on Owl and Partition. This was a sad reminder of the threats these beautiful animals face daily. Owl has the large gash across her back that she got when she was just a few years old- likely from a collision with a ship. Partition has new entanglement wounds at the base of her tail that are still healing. And as we were leaving the whales, we saw a green latex balloon floating near our whales. Marine debris- trash at sea- is a huge problem for all marine life if they ingest it. It can clog their systems, choke them and even poison them with the chemicals they contain.   People always ask me what they can do to help the whales. Here are a few simple things that WILL HELP WHALES:

1. Do not EVER release helium balloons. What goes up must come down, and as Earth is 70% water, balloons have a good chance of falling back to Earth and landing in the oceans. Sea turtles mistake the frayed balloons for jellyfish- a favorite meal. Whales can gulp them down along with the fish when they feed at the surface. Fish and birds might ingest particles of those same balloons, which can be toxic.

2. Know where and how your seafood is caught and be sure it is only caught by sustainable practices that are not threatening to whales or the marine life populations. Or better yet, avoid seafood all together. Even "safe" fishing methods, such as hook and line, that are intended to only catch one fish of a particular species can be threatening to marine life as those fishermen often use latex balloons as bobbers (and subsequently let them go on the ocean). And just last week we saw two humpback whales with hook/monofilament fishing line entanglements likely from the vast fleet of tuna boats that were fishing in the same area as the whales were feeding.

3. Shop locally. By purchasing products make in the USA, or better yet, close to home, you are reducing the need for shipping the items across the world, reducing ocean traffic. This reduction in ships on the ocean will lessen the amount of noise pollution in the ocean as well as reduce the chance of a whale getting hit by a ship.

In general, whenever you are in the position to make a decision, think like our good friend Willy does and ask yourself how your decision will help or hurt the whales. If everyone did this, the oceans would be a much better place.

Thanks again to our hearty passengers for accepting all of the elements that mother ocean threw at us today!

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