Saturday, September 29, 2012

Friday September 28

Some of our favorite conditions are when the wind is minimal and the sky is completely cloudy.  The stark contrast between the ocean and the sky typically proves to be ideal conditions for spotting whale spouts out in the distance.  Granted the cloudy skies provided a bit of rain but our passengers had no problem venturing outside each and every time we were in close proximity to the whales.  Hardy crowds and life around Jeffreys Ledge certainly proved to be a winning combination throughout our trip.

The first signs of whale life were some very tall spouts.  We had Fin whales ahead of us and ended up with 5 Fin whales in total: two groups of two and a single whale skirting around the area.  All of these whales were spending a bit of time below the waterline but when they surfaced they certainly were impressive.  Having two pairs of Fin whales in the area was great seeing just how easily these 60+ ton animals can swim through the water together all the while moving alongside another creature equally as large.
Two Fin whales on the move together

Thanks to our Fin whale extraordinaire crew member a quick look at some of these whale's dorsal fins and we knew who was in the area.  #0622 and #0520 were just two of the 5 Fin whales we got the chance to spend time with today.
Fin whale #0622
Each and every Fin whale can certainly be distinct based on the shape of the dorsal fin and sometimes (unfortunately due to human-related interactions) scars along their bodies
Fin whale #0520

With more time to explore other areas we got some last looks at all the whales and continued on in search of more spouts.  Our friends aboard the Prince of Whales radioed us that they too had some whale activity a few miles from our current location so we headed towards the area.  Not only were there spouts they were whales of a different species.  We ended up spending some time with two Humpback whales.  This pair was a mother and her calf.  Tornado and her calf were once again back on Jeffreys Ledge. 
Tornado and her calf
The last time we sighted this pair was September 12; over two weeks ago.  Makes you wonder where these two whales have been spending their time and what made them decide to once again make their way back to our area... So many mysteries surround these ocean-dwelling mammals and by having the chance to venture offshore in pursuit of these wild animals we continue to gain insight, and enjoy the amazing opportunity, to come across all of our wild whales.

Before heading for home we had a bit more time to also check out reports of yet another whale in the area.  Spoon the Humpback whale has decided to make herself known to us here around Jeffreys Ledge.  Spoon, an adult female, is another one of our large whales we love to see.  She was first spotted in the Gulf of Maine in 1977 making her one of the older whales known to the area.  What a great find to see another familiar whale grace us with it's presence this year.

Spoon

Stay tuned for more updates as we await for the weather to cooperate so we can enjoy another day out on Jeffreys Ledge in search of whales of all varieties!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday September 23

Whale life was once again plentiful during our travels today.  Our first whales of the day were some of the second largest in the world... Fin whales!  We got the chance to see 3 Fin whales near the boat as we continued to see tall column-like spouts further out, meaning more Fin whales than we were even getting looks at offshore! 
Fin whale
At one point we even saw some whale defecation from one of these enormous beings so you can imagine just how large one of their "clouds" can be.  The brown color of the cloud was a good indication that at least one of the Fin whales in the area had recently been feeding on lots of fish.

With more time we eased our way out of the area to go investigate more spouts we were seeing.  Ends up we came across a pair of Humpback whales.  It didn't take long for both whales to move off in different directions so we ended up staying with one, Vault, before this whale started moving exactly towards the area we had just left minutes before.  A few more looks and we went in search of the other Humpback whale in the area. 
Vault
Even though the second Humpback whale never brought it's tail above the waterline we knew it was Flyball.  This whale has a very hooked-shape dorsal fin and knowing it has been seen the past few days we had a good inkling as to who this particular whale might be.  After a few more surfacings we pressed on and once again it didn't take long to find more whales.

Two spouts off our port side turned into a trio of Humpback whales.  As we spent time watching these mammals move through the water we got some incredible looks as they all swam in synchrony.  We were able to identify these animals as Cinder, Hippocampus, and Alligator in cahoots with each other this afternoon.
Our trio of Humpback whales today
One of these three whales also left some digested food at the surface but this time it was bright red.  One of these Humpback whales had recently been eating krill!  More whales and more whale defecation.


Cinder
Hippocampus

With a bit more time we continued on and once again eased our way towards more whales.  We ended the day with three more Humpback whales sporadically surfacing all around the boat.  We are still working on a match for one whale (a Type 5 tail, almost all black, which can be very tricky to positively identify!) but did identify our other critters swimming around us.  We were once again in the presence of a new visitor to Jeffreys Ledge this year.  Emoticon was busy circling around the area.
Even from a distance Emoticon has such a distinct black and white pattern we still could positively identify this Humpback whale

Emoticon was circling around the area and even from a distance guess what was visible?  Another cloud was forming at the surface.  Lots of whales and lots of digested food from so many of our whales today.

Our final, and other, whale in the area was actually a repeat sighting.  Looks like Flyball and ourselves were on the same course as we got a quick look, and tail, from this whale.
Flyball eventually decided to raise its tail as this Humpback whale went on a deeper dive

We had a day full of wildlife that continues to provide newcomers for the 2012 season as we spent the first full day of Fall out on the water today.  This season certainly has been a great one and we are not done yet.  We'll be eagerly awaiting our next trip out next week to see just what, and who, will be out there for us to see!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday September 22

Happy Autumnal Equinox everyone!  Even though there was a change in seasons today the whales were out and about in full force regardless of what we humans may determine what time of year it is.  We recorded at least 14 Fin whales and 8 Humpback whales throughout our travels today.  The truly crazy part of the day included the fact that we were seeing more spouts out in the distance than we had time to go investigate.  Wow, there were a lot of whales today.

Most of the animals we were in close proximity of today were constantly circling around the area filtering out lots of salt water while trapping plenty of food inside their mouths thanks to hundreds of baleen plates lining these whales' upper jaws.  Our Fin whales were either charging through the water, perhaps chasing after fish, or constantly surfacing with such force that many of  these whales were actively participating in the feeding frenzy that seemed to be occurring all around us today. 
If you look closely you can even see another Fin whale's spout in the background from this particular Fin whale seen in the foreground for whales were surfacing everywhere today!
Out of the many Fin whales seen today we were able to identify one of the whales out in the field as #9721, a Fin whale first seen on Jeffreys Ledge in 1997! 
Fin whale #9721
With all the whales seen today there is still plenty of matching to do as our Fin whale and Humpback whale photographs are keeping us quite busy on land as we attempt to match up all the whales spotted today.

As our Fin whales continued to constantly change direction around us we also got the chance to witness plenty of Humpback whales utilizing the area as well; consuming plenty of food themselves!  At one point we had three Humpback whales group up together and surface each time with mouths fully extended out filtering out gallons of seawater through their baleen plates!
Three Humpback whale heads at the surface filtering salt water out of all their mouths!
Eventually the trio broke apart as two animals continued surfacing side by side while the third Humpback whale moved off in its own direction. 
Alligator
Even though this Humpback whale has very unique markings we are still in the process of finding a match in the Humpback Whale Catalog
Another currently unknown Humpback whale we are attempting to match up

From a research aspect it is so interesting to see the brief associations between these animals wondering why they may group up in the first place, and when/why they decide to move off in their own separate directions.  So mysterious and intriguing all at the same time... Once again it was a moment in time to be in the right place at the right time to witness these individual whales join forces for a few minutes before separating just a quickly.  Even after slightly splitting apart they still remained only yards from each other as they continued moving through the water on their own today. 
Two Humpback whales having very distant coloration patterns found on the underside of their tails
Two Humpback whales at the surface while moving around some fishing gear which can be some very threatening dangers to these whales as they move through the ocean chasing after fish

The more time we spent out on the water today the more spouts we continued to see and so eventually eased our way out of the immediate area to go check out some of the other spouts further offshore.  It didn't take long to once again encounter a few more whales.  Two Humpback whales appeared to be moving in towards all the other whale activity.  Thanks to a few quick photographs and some consulting with our friends from the Prince of Whales we were able to determine Hippocampus and Cinder as on the move together.
Hippocampus (above) was seen swimming in tandem with Cinder today
Looks like these whales wanted to get in on all the activity going on only a few miles from them.

Before heading home we also saw a few more Fin whales on the move as well as a couple more Humpback whales.  Zelle spent time circling, and filtering, around and we even passed by Vault on our way back towards Rye Harbor. 
Zelle's very unique black and white pigmentation pattern
Our travels home took us past yet another Humpback whale, Vault!

With so many whales around we wonder just how long the abundance of food will provide enough reason for these whales to stick around for the whales go wherever there is plenty of food for them to feed on.  It will surely be interesting to see what new surprises Jeffreys Ledge will provide for us tomorrow but it will most definitely be intriguing to go find out!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday September 21

After being on land all week we had no idea what Jeffreys Ledge would hold in store for us as we were off in search of whales today.  Shortly after passing through the Isles of Shoals we were surprised to see a large spout suddenly appear.  A Fin whale was moving through the area. 

First Fin whale of the day
Turns out there were two Fin whales in the general vicinity but we decided to spend time with one that continued to remain a bit closer to us.  After getting some nice looks we decided to head towards Jeffreys Ledge where we had seen whale activity earlier in the week. 

As we continued to travel along our friends from the Prince of Whales called to report lots of whale activity near their vessel.  We decided to alter course and head towards the report in hopes that something would still be swimming around once we got there.  Once in the area we certainly had plenty to look at.  Our friends had brought us to an area where whales were everywhere!  Everything was circling around, surfacing sporadically, constantly making tight, tight turns!  Almost everything we saw was actively feeding.

Fin whales were surfacing with lower jaws bellowed out, surfacing with such force, there would be constant white-water around them... a huge indication of filtering and food constantly being trapped inside their large mouths! 

Fin whale showcasing so much of its body as it returns up from the depths of the ocean that not only can you see the swirly gray pattern (known as the chevron) but it also indicates lots of filtering is going on and thus current feeding is occurring by this animal!

One of the many Fin whales in the area swimming by

A few Fin whales were even paired up amazingly keeping in sync with each other as they shifted to the left and to the right with each breath of air.  In the mix of at least 7 Fin whales charging around there were also 3 Humpback whales doing the exact same thing.

The Humpback whales were also surfacing with lower jaws extended out and even saw a couple open-mouth lunges as they broke through the surface of the ocean.  It was truly whale pandemonium everywhere!  Whales were spending minutes under the water so at any given time you could see a visible spout from some mammoth whale continuing to circle around the area.
a
Cinder the Humpback whale

Humpback whale creating lots of white water as it surfaced filtering out plenty of salt water!

A new visitor to our area this season!  Great to see you doing some feeding Kilter the Humpback whale
With so much going on you didn't even know where to look as your eyes would constantly be catching whale-movement in some direction out on the water.  With all the whales constantly changing direction it was even a bit challenging to capture so many of these incredible moments on camera!  I will be the first one to tell you that these pictures do not do the trip justice!  What a great day out on the open ocean today.  Granted it was a bit chilly (keep in mind the ocean typically causes temperatures to be 10-15 degrees cooler out on the water than on land) but the whales continue to do what they do: search, chase, and eat lots of food!  Sure will be interesting to see what tomorrow has in store for us!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Monday September 17

We spent the entire day out on Jeffreys Ledge and for the most part were in search of something a bit different than whales... we were bird watching.  Our all-day pelagic birding adventure meant we got the chance to get to areas of Jeffreys Ledge we typically don't get the opportunity to travel to on our half-day trips so we were excited to see what may be spending time on the ledge in terms of birds, and obviously whales!

Our passengers were at the ready with binoculars (and plenty of chum!) in hand as the horizon was constantly being searched in all directions for feathery flying creatures.  While most folks were keeping an eye to the sky we of course were focused on the water's edge.  Maybe a few whales would be around.  Conditions could not have been better for searching for all kinds of life throughout our travels as we headed offshore. 

Birds were sporadic and at times so were the whales but when there were whales around, they certainly were not in short supply!  Our grand totals (keep in mind we were out on the water for 9 hrs so these numbers are not normal for a typical whale watch) included: 1 Ocean sunfish, 1 Minke whale, two pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphins consisting of around 200 individuals in total, 9 Fin whales, 1 Right whale, 10 Humpback whales, 1 Lion's Mane Jellyfish, and 1 Sperm whale!  WOW!!!!

Some of our whales were definitely feeding as we saw a pair of Fin whales surfacing with lots of salt water being filtered out through their baleen plates as well as a trio of Humpback whales surfacing with lower jaws completely bellowed out also filtering out water and trapping plenty of food inside!  A good handful of our Humpback whales certainly looked small, believing many of our sightings were juveniles, as we are still in the process of positively identifying all of our whales from the day.  Known Humpbacks of the day do include: Cinder, Talus, and Flyball feeding together, Benthic and calf, and Vault and Backstroke on the move together.  We also realized that Benthic has not been sighted at all this season (by any research organization in the Gulf of Maine) AND was with a calf.
Benthic's almost all black tail

A new mom to add to the Humpback mothers for the year and a very exciting find to see the two of them in our area on Jeffreys Ledge!  

Cinder, Talus and Flyball swimming in tandem with each other (above and below)
We also had a trio of Fin whales moving through the water and spent time over the course of the day seeing spouts out in the distance but had to remind ourselves we were on a bird trip, not a full-blown whale watching adventure :) 
One of the many Fin whales seen

A day of dolphins is always a great day!
Young dolphin getting a breath of air

Not only did we see so many of our "typical" whale species of the day we were also treated to some VERY UNEXPECTED surprises.  Our distant look at a Right whale was a fun addition to the species of the day but nothing beat out the ultimate species of the day... a Sperm whale!!!

The ocean was so calm due to almost the complete lack of wind and visibility was fabulous so seeing spouts to a trained-eye was ideal.  At one point as we were scouting out birds one of our eagle-eyed crew members started to become very intrigued with a spout out in the distance.  A few times the exhalation from this creature was very much angled from the whale.   No way... that couldn't be possible.  Feasible yes, but still highly unlikely.  The longer we all started to hone in on this whale we all started to realize what was near by.  We in fact had a Sperm whale in the area!  A quick check with our ornithologist to head towards a whale not a bird, and we were off to investigate this particular animal.  Indeed it really was what we thought we had.  It was some of the best looks ever at a Sperm whale mainly because we very, very, very rarely have one of the deepest diving whales in all the world out on Jeffreys Ledge! 
Sperm whale spout so distinctive from any other whale

Even our birders were ecstatic to get such awesome looks at such a bizarre, and unique, species.  It was absolutely awesome.
The "wrinkly" body of a Sperm whale

Though not only were we seeing whales and birds we also had a bit of extra excitement for all on board.  We got the chance to check out a Lion's Mane Jellyfish throughout our travels!  The ocean certainly holds lots of interesting looking creatures and we were all astounded by what we got the chance to see and spend time with. 
Lion's Mane Jellyfish providing a safe haven for some small schooling fish that certainly appeared to be unaffected by the jelly's stinging tentacles
Can you see some of the Lion's Mane's tentacles in the water? It's the string-like objects you see on the left side of this photo!

What an incredible day of sighting so many ocean-dwelling creatures.  We had wonderful weather, great passengers, hardcore chum-masters (for the birds, not for attracting whales) and fantastic sightings that truly made for an absolutely astonishing day surrounded by wildlife.

Sunday September 16

One thing that can always be counted on in the world of whale watching is that the weather has a mind of its own.  The wind forecast for the day was expected to dramatically decrease as the day progressed.  Instead, it decided to hold strong and so we were all treated to some extra waves throughout the day.  Our hardy passengers were equally as strong as even with a bit more motion of the ocean than we were expecting we certainly had plenty to look at.

Just beyond the Isles of Shoals (only 8 miles from Rye Harbor!) we saw a spout.  Once we made our way into the area everything decided to make itself known.  We ended up having 3 Fin whales and a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins surface nearby!  We first made our way over to a pair of Fin whales moving through the water. 
Dorsal fin of one of our Fin whale pair

After a couple of surfacings the Fin whales went on a deeper dive and suddenly we had a small group of  ~10 dolphins start to surf in our wake!  Where did these whales come from?  Knowing dolphins can easily swim through an area, if on the move, we decided to stick with the dolphins before making our way back to the larger whales in the area.  As we watched our dolphins swim around we suddenly noticed instead of just milling around the area they quickly started to head in a particular direction.  Moments later we knew why.  Out of the depths of the ocean our pair of Fin whales surprised our passengers as these mammoth beings suddenly surfaced along side the boat.
Our pair of Fin whales at the surface together
The dolphins were swimming in direct correlation with the Fin whales in the area!  It is such a treat to see this type of association as inter species connections is not a usual occurrence.  Having not only one Fin whale, but two, surface alongside each other all the while having the dolphins skirt alongside the pair was an awesome sight.

As quickly as we watched this "bond" form between dolphin and whale it dissipated just as fast for soon the dolphins were heading in one direction and the Fin whale pair were busy heading off in another direction.  We had been in the right place at the right time to see the small dolphins (6-8ft in length) surface next to the massive 60+ ft long Fin whales.  After few more looks at our dolphins as we made our way back to the pair still in the area.

These two Fin whales were definitely chasing down some food for almost every time they surfaced they were providing visual cues to us researchers indicating filtering, and thus feeding, occurring from these whales.  The entire time we were in the area these animals were circling around and staying in synchrony of each other.  As the third Fin whale of the area appeared to passing through we spent a bit more time with our pair before heading further offshore.
Even in a bit of wind the spout from a Fin whale is very visible and impressive

The rest of the trip we were once again in the presence of more Fin whales.  A few animals were being less than ideal to get looks at (spending plenty of time under the water and only taking a few breaths) but seeing so much life was a great sign knowing that Jeffreys Ledge continues to be so active in terms of food for whales!
One of the multiple Fin whale seen throughout the trip
All in all we ended up seeing at least 9 different Fin whales throughout our travels including a quick look at another pair of Fin whales; a mother/calf pair!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday September 15

While there certainly were plenty of whale spouts to be seen today the whales themselves were being a bit on the tricky side.  Our first two whales were very much inshore of Jeffreys Ledge and spending a bit of time below the waterline.  With reports of more whale activity further offshore we counted our losses and pressed on.  Recent whale reports are always enjoyed for the sooner we get to an area the better chance we have of relocating anything that may still be around.  We continued on towards the ledge and first came across a Humpback whale.  This whale was slowly moving through the water but not necessary surfacing very often.  But our luck quickly changed when Jabiru decided to swim along side the boat effortlessly maneuvering through the water.  Even though we didn't get a great look at the underside of this whale's tail (what we typically use to positively identify individual Humpback whales) the unique marks and scars on this whale's back was plenty enough to indeed verify this was Jabiru.  Great to see this whale is still spending some time on Jeffreys Ledge this season.
Jabiru and it's very distinct markings seen along the back of this animal

After some nice looks at Jabiru we were off again to investigate another spout further offshore.  A few miles away that single spout turned into lots of whale life!  Three Fin whales suddenly surfaced together while two other Fin whales were seen beyond the trio.  The group dissipated their associations almost as quickly as we initially spotted them as we continued to ease our way into the area of so many whales.  With plenty of animals around we slowly made our way to a few exhalations we were seeing close by.  Out of the total of 6 Fin whales in the area we were able to get some looks at a few of them.
One Fin whale moving around the area

Everything seemed to be circling around and was also spending plenty of time in the depths of the ocean.  However, with a bit of patience and some predictions of whale movements we ended up spending time with a VERY relaxed Fin whale.  This particular whale was taking a nap.  For the majority of the time we, and the whale, stayed parallel with each other (almost stationary) as we floated on the surface and this whale remained suspended just below the water. 
Fin whale slowly breaking the surface to get a good breath of air before continuing on with it's napping behaviors

The whale was angled so perfectly with the shining sun that we could literally see the entire length of this animal due to the green sheen the underbelly of this whale was creating.  The length of this whale was so large it was literally impossible to capture a picture of the whole whale in any single snapshot.  Even without a visual of this sleeping Fin whale it was a great moment and an awesome look at one large, large species!
Our Fin whale finally awake enough to head down on a deeper dive

The boat was chalk full of returning passengers, whale enthusiasts, excited first-time whale spotters, and even returning Blue Ocean Society interns today!  The excitement of so many of our passengers was certainly felt all around the boat today making the trip a special experience all on its own.  Thanks to all who joined us and continue to share in our own excitement of these wild beings year in and year out!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday September 14

Having the chance to spend time with even one whale can be quite the experience.  A moment in time where two mammals from very different "worlds" (solid ground vs. completely submersed in water) catch a glimpse into the lives of each other.  Granted most of the time we humans are watching the whales more than the whales watching us but it can still be a moment like no other.  Throw in not just one whale but a pair to start the trip with, a single circling around, and ultimately coming into an area where whale-life was completely surrounding us was not only completely unexpected but astounding with each second that went by.

The day started with a pair of Humpback whales traveling through the water together.  Nile and Tectonic were in synchrony with their surfacing and dive intervals. 
Nile in the process of heading into the depths of the ocean
Seeing these two adult whales still in our area, and currently swimming around together, was a pleasant way to start the day.
Nile
Tectonic
Further offshore we discovered another spout.  It was another Humpback whale.  Instead of constantly moving in a general direction like Nile and Tectonic had been, this particular whale was circling around the area.  While the unique markings on the underside of this Humpback whale tail were quite distinct the pattern did not trigger a bell into the plethora of Humpback whale tails we can sometimes recognize right off the bat.  After some searching we have still yet to make a positive match to a fluke found in the catalog but if/when we do we will be sure to let you all know!
The only Humpback whale of the day that is still in the process of getting matched.  There are definitely some unique black and white markings found on the underside of this tail

We began running a bit short on time in regards to any more offshore exploration and soon started to make headway back towards Rye Harbor.  Unknowing to any of us we were certainly in for a handful of surprises along the way home.

First we saw a spout then another spout.  Suddenly not too far away from us a trio of Humpback whales and at least one Fin whale were near by.  Having not yet gotten the chance to spend time with one of the second largest animals on the planet (the mighty large Fin whale!) we altered course slightly to swing through the area.  Well one Fin whale turned into two side-by-side.  Unfortunately neither one of them were surfacing much and neither one of them ever appeared to go on a much deeper dive.  After attempting to get looks at our Fin whale pair we had yet to relocate the other group in the area but instead saw splashing just up ahead.  A group of 75 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were close to us.  Since they were at least "towards" home we figured okay a quick look at some agile dolphins and we would get back underway. 
An Atlantic white-sided dolphin

Soon everything surfaced all at the same time.  The trio of Humpback whales were now close to the dolphins, the pair of Fin whales were moving in the same direction, and even now a third lone Fin whale was spotted all the while sticking close to the toothed-whales being seen in every which direction.  As one of our passengers put it "we hit the whale jackpot."  Yes we had.  Even through all the chaos of whales surfacing in every direction we were able to identify the Humpback whales as Cinder, Geometry, and Komodo.  Two new additions (Cinder and Komodo) for the season for individual whales to spend time on Jeffreys Ledge! 
Geometry and Komodo following in suit if Cinder (which had already dove down under the water at this point)

The Fin whales continued to be a bit elusive, just barely bringing any part of their bodies above the waterline, so we stuck with the dolphins before we really needed to continue towards home. 
Atlantic white-sided dolphin cruising past the boat!

We were on the move once again but before long we knew we were about to get diverted again.  More splashing was being seen out ahead of us.  Initially we thought great another pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins.  However, the longer we watched the splashing the more we knew those weren't more of the same species we had already taken looks at.  The dorsal fin surely were consistently breaking the surface, larger dorsal fins, large bodies.... a pod of Pilot whales were just ahead of us!!! 
Pilot whales can be very easily distinguished from the other toothed-whales we occasionally encounter.  Dark color and big dorsal fins are a great indication of this species!

As if we weren't already running later than planned no way could we pass up the chance of seeing a type of whale that we have gone entire seasons without seeing!  This group of about 15 was just meandering along, constantly circling around, and surfacing just alongside the boat a few times. 
Incoming Pilot whale!


These whales are HUGE in comparison to the white-sided dolphins we had just spent time with.  Pilot whales can easily be twice the size of a full grown white-sided dolphins and having some of these whales swim just in front and just to the side of us was awesome.
Pilot whales surfacing so close to the boat
A young Pilot whale catches a glimpse of us watching it!

The unexpectedness of wildlife today was surely in the spotlight and we will continue to expect more of the unknown when we once again venture offshore for another trip to Jeffreys Ledge tomorrow!