Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Monday July 30

Our morning trip started off with a mother and calf Fin whale pair.  While the calf certainly spent time circling around the area, heads kept having to turn as the calf would pop up in all direction around the boat, mom was being a bit more mellow.  Eventually we got the opportunity to watch as mom went on a deeper dive snapping photographs of her enormous body as she dove to document just which pair we were surrounded by.  Looks like this pair has been spending a bit of time on Jeffreys Ledge as we spotted these two animals earlier this week!
Dorsal fin of our Fin whale mom and what we use to identify all Fin whales

A bit further offshore another spout was seen.  Moments later two spouts were seen.  We had come across another pair of whales.  It was yet another pair of Fin whales but this time it was two large animals.  Spending time with two of the second largest living animals on the planet is so incredible as these creatures seem to effortlessly maneuver in synchrony with each other.  It didn't take long to realize that both of these whales were familiar!  Low and behold Ladder, one of our frequently seen whales on Jeffreys Ledge, was of course swimming through the ocean with a friend.  Even though we have not yet been able to verify exactly who this second whale is we do know it is an animal we too have been seen out on the Ledge in recent days. 
Ladder's friend
Prior to this sighting, this particular Fin whale had been spotted on its own (very typical for Fin whales) but today there it was with another adult whale.  Both animals kept circling around and we even saw indications of feeding bouts as a couple times both whales surfaced with their lower jaw fully extended.  Both whales were chowing down on some morning food!

Ladder's large girth of a body as it surfaces behind the boat filtering out lots of salt water
Ladder and it's friend swimming in cahoots with each other

More time meant more exploring and off we went as these two large Fin whales continued on with their activities.  After some searching we once again spotted a spout in the distance.  Another Fin whale was near by!  We got a few looks before we needed to head back towards land but were once again able to positively identify this particular Fin whale as well.  #0813 was meandering around the area.  All these familiar Fin whales continue to utilize the nutrient-rich waters on and around Jeffreys Ledge and we sure do enjoy spending time with them! 

Hello again Fin whale #0813

Such is the case when you are out on the open ocean, the more area you cover the greater the chance of seeing whale activity.  Almost every time we start to head back to Rye Harbor our track line takes us through areas we have yet to go through.  If you were to look at each of our trips we are almost always making a large triangle, or circle, heading out towards Jeffreys Ledge in one direction and heading back to land over different parts of the ocean.  We aren't kidding when we say there is always a possibility of coming across more wildlife on our way back in and such was the case this morning.  Our travels took us through an area we were crossed paths with another species of whale on its own travel pattern.  More specifically we found 50 of them.  A pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins were out ahead of us. 
We couldn't stay long but we were able to get some incredible looks as our group of whales moved through the water.  They were heading offshore, and we needed to head inshore, so soon we were off again to the west.  What a very nice surprise to end our morning with!
This dolphin has its mouth open!  If only we knew what this mammal was thinking or learning about us as it swam by...

This afternoon we were off again to see if we could relocate any of the marine life we had seen from our morning adventures.  Our first stop was a lone Fin whale.  At first we were having some difficulty even relocating the animal as it would breath for a couple breaths and just disappear underneath the waterline.  The whale wasn't arching it's back to indicate a deeper dive so we thought perhaps this whale was doing a bit of afternoon sleeping.  Unfortunately that was not at all the case.  We had come across an entangled whale....

This Fin whale, from our vantage point, was towing two yellow buoys ~60ft beyond the animal itself.  While we never saw any line on, or around the animal, it is believed this whale may be weighed down by gear in the depths of the ocean.  We never saw more than the first third, to half, of this whale's body above the water which could be a sign this whale is trailing so much gear, and weight, it is unable to achieve the possibility of behaving like a free-swimming whale.  Apologizes to our passengers as we quickly went into "high alert mode," as we are always ready to if needed, making the necessary phone and radio calls to those that needed to be reached.  Photographs were taken of all aspects of what we were seeing and sent along to folks at Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies Disentanglement network.  These few highly trained people have years of experience dealing with, and disentangling, all whales up and down the East Coast.  While seas conditions and daylight hours limited the chance of having a team come from Cape Cod to assess this whale first-hand they are on alert if anyone ends up spotting this whale once again.  We thank all our passengers for being understanding as our Captain and crew did all that we could do in this very sad reminder of what dangerous, human-related, harm we ultimately created for the whales in the ocean.  We also thank the Disentanglement Team for doing all that you do to help these mammals over the seasons.  If/when any other information becomes available we will of course pass the news on to all of you.

We didn't want to stress out the whale any more than it may have already been stressed out and after taking very detailed documentation (lots of behavioral notes thanks to our awesome Blue Ocean Society intern Dominique!) we eased our way out of the area.  We pressed on and ended up coming into an area where we had spotted two more spouts.  Not only was this a Fin whale pair, it was the same pair we had spent time with just this morning.  Ladder and friend, while having moved from their morning location, were still swimming side-by-side. 

During one surfacing we even saw another friendly reminder that these whales were feeding, or at least recently.  An enormous bright red cloud began forming on the water.
Red patch in the water; whale poop!
Krill was the choice of food.  This red cloud ended up getting bigger as the whale left a few patches of  digested krill as it moved around.  It is a little weird to say you saw whale poop but it really is a very cool sight!

With some great looks at this pair we had a bit more time to search for more whale activity and so we pressed on.  Our trip ended with what we thought was another pair of Fin whales, but actually ended up being THREE as we quickly went from having a whale off our left side to two more off our right side!  What a way to end the day.  Three free-swimming, large and in charge, Fin whales moving through the water with such ease.  As all three whales went on deeper dives, watching as they sank below the waterline, we were able to identify two of the three whales.  Both adult whales (and I am guessing the third is also an adult as it was just as large as the other two) we had in our midst #0506 Blunt and #0354. 
Blunt the Fin whale
Fin whale #0354
Once again seeing one Fin whale is impressive, but this time 3, on top of the other two we had seen earlier, wow.  It was an adventurous day in many different aspects today and we thank all of you for your love of the ocean and all the live in it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday July 28

Leaving Rye Harbor this morning we were socked in.  Fog was everywhere!  We have had some fantastic whale watching trips in the fog so even with the extra challenge of less visibility we headed offshore.  Six miles later the fog broke and the Isles of Shoals were surrounding us.  A few more miles and more fog.  Then poof! The fog cleared and we began to see ocean in every direction for miles around us.  The gray skies were the perfect backdrop for looking for spouts and the backs of whales.  Our first whale we spotted was a Fin whale.  We could not have asked for better ocean conditions.  There wasn't a ripple in the water and we could watch as our whale swam below the waterline before each surface for a breath of air!

Fin whale surfaces with absolutely no affect to the water
Chevron (gray shading pattern) of our Fin whale
Whale's reflection on the surface as it goes on a deeper dive
The longer we spent with this animal the more backs we were seeing out in the distance.  After a few more fantastic looks at this whale, and even a Minke whale surfacing sporadically around, we eased our way over to the other animals.  Both whales were barely creating any disturbance at the water's edge as you would think a whale reaching lengths of over 60ft and weighing over 70 tons might cause more of an effect on the ocean's surface.  The whales surfaced together and moments later we realized why.  One whale was much smaller than the other.  We had come across as mother/calf pair! 
Back and dorsal fin of our adult female Fin whale
A closer inspection of Mom's dorsal fin (and even the calf's) 99% confirms the fact that this is a new pair to Jeffreys Ledge this season.  That makes 3 confirmed mom/calf pairs this year!!!  I say I am 99% confident only because I admit I am not the best Fin whale matcher.  Instead I leave that responsibility up to the Blue Ocean Society's Fin whale Master as she has had lots of years of experience studying the subtle difference of all these second-largest creatures on the planet! 
Mom's dorsal fin as her calf surfaces just beyond her
I will say however that Mom certainly has a distinctive chevron pattern and small sharp edges on its dorsal fin so hopefully I am correct (though this won't be the first, or last time, I may be mistaken). 
Chevron pattern of our adult female
Regardless, this pair was a great sight to see as both mom and her calf were slowing maneuvering the area providing some spectacular looks at an adult female and her "tiny" calf.
Fin whale calf swims in towards the boat
Mom/calf Fin whale pair
Further offshore we also spent time with another Fin whale, #0813, a whale first spotted on Jeffreys Ledge in 2008.  Add in a few more Minke whales and 5 Blue sharks and it was quite the lovely morning.
Fin whale #0813

This afternoon we headed back to where we had been in the morning but got diverted as our friends on the Atlantic Queen informed us of a small pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins.  These whales certainly were on the move.  They were charging through the water, creating plenty of white water, allowing us to easily keep tract of these animals as they moved through the area.

With some nice looks we moved further offshore.  The whales we had seen in the morning had moved as the area was quiet as far as spouts, disturbances, and backs of whales were non-existent.  With more calm water we knew if something was around we would see it.  Eventually we ended up coming into an area with a single Fin whale.  This whale was being so relaxed we only got a chance to see its dorsal fin a few times the entire time we spent with this animal! Luckily this whale had such a distinctive fin we knew in an instant who it was.  #0813 was still swimming around our area!
Fin whale #0813 barely showcasing any of it's body this afternoon

With a bit more time we decided to check out a couple other spots nearby.  We ended up in an area where were had a least 5 more Fin whales around!  All these whales were being a bit confusing as they were circling around the area constantly changing direction so we just stayed put making sure we were not interfering with the movements of the whales.

Fin whale #9709 was in the mix of activity this afternoon
A couple whales surfaced close by, one of them off the stern, and a familiar one at that.  It was Dingle!  Over the past month this whale has been showing itself randomly over the weeks and enjoyed once again seeing this whale today.  A few more looks at all the animals and we were out of time. 

Thanks to all our passengers today who kept an eye out for all kinds of activity as in addition to all the whales we saw today we also got the chance to spot 5 Blue sharks this morning and 11 this afternoon!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday July 27

It was a day full of whale activity as we ended up recording 11 Fin whales, 2 Minke whales, 3 pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphins, and 4 Humpback whales seen throughout our whale watch today.  So many signs of life and all in one trip!  While we definitely had some incredible highlights (those to be discussed further below) things started out a bit skirmish to say the least.  We first attempted to get a look at a very low-profile Fin whale inshore of Jeffreys Ledge.  Staying under the water for 8 or 9 minutes is fairly average for these large mammals but boy oh boy was this whale on the move.  We had to try to catch up to this animal each time it surfaced but had to keep a sharp eye out on the horizon as when this whale was at the surface it was barely making a disturbance in the water!  A very, very sneaky Fin whale.  We finally cut our losses and moved further offshore in hopes of finding other Fin whales or species that perhaps were not on quite the "stealth mission" this whale seemed to be on.

Soon out in the distance we spotted two blows.  They were close together; great a pair of whales!  Oh no, not at all the case.  Instead, once we got closer the pair split off and a third whale was seen in the area.  Three Fin whales all darting back and forth.  It was a bit tricky to figure out which whale was which and where they all were so we could maneuver through the area without disturbing any of these whales.  Eventually we figured out at least the pair we had seen from afar.  It was #9904 and her calf.  Once again these two animals were together for a split second before heading out in different directions.  We ended up seeing Mom surface, though sporadically, much more frequently than the calf who kept surfacing out in the distance.
Fin whale #9904

Eventually we got a few looks at our Fin whales and with our friends aboard the Prince of Whales not too far away with other whale activity we ventured towards them.  A Humpback whale was in the area.  This animal was also being a bit squirrely as it would come up only for a couple breaths before diving down into the water column once again.  However, soon the whale chaos began.  While we sat waiting for the Humpback whale to resurface, #9904 surfaced just behind the boat!  Out of nowhere she too had moved into this area and so we got the best looks at her in that moment.  Then the Humpback whale surfaced and was matched in the catalog as being a two-year old named Mountain.  Another new Humpback for the season. 
Mountain, a whale that was just given it's name this past month!
As we watched Mountain soon we saw a whole slew of dorsal fins.  A pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins were transversing through the area. 
Final look at a jumping Atlantic white-sided dolphin
We had 3 species all in one spot: a Fin whale, a Humpback whale, and dolphins!  With plenty to look at in all directions around the boat we spent a bit more time with the dolphins before passing them back off to the Prince of Whales and we were off to do a little more exploring. 

Thanks to our great whale-spotting passengers this morning a spout was seen out in the distance.  One spout turned into two and soon we had a pair of large Fin whales moving alongside the boat.  As we spent time with the whales a small group of ~6 Atlantic white-sided dolphins also appeared in close proximity before continuing on in their travel pattern. We stayed with our two Fin whales that had very distinct dorsal fins which we were not able to match up with any of the whales we have in our on-board Fin whale catalog but will definitely help in identifying them again in the future. 
Our Fin whale pair (above and below)

A few surfacings later and these two whales began to circle the area.  Both whales, while continuing to synchronize their movements and surfacings, were also constantly changing directions.  Both whales were working so intrinsically with each other it was quite mesmerizing. 
Our Fin whales at the surface together
The trance quick subsided when both whales literally surfaced just off the front of the boat with their lower jaws fully expanded.  Both whales were filtering massive amounts of salt water through their baleen plates!  Seeing not one, but two, of the second largest living animals on the planet rise up from the depths of the ocean filtering out water soon makes you realize just how impressively large these mammals really are.  Incredible.

With some fantastic looks at our pair we got word from a fishing boat a few miles away of a bit more whale activity.  We decided to check it out before heading home to see just what was out there.  A few minutes later we saw what is was as it had leaped clear out of the water.  A Humpback whale had breached!  Turns out it was Cardhu and her calf as one more distant breach and a tail-breach later we were in the area.  No more aerial activity was seen but even from a distance it was very cool watching a whale propel its body high above the waterline! 
Cardhu at the surface as her calf moves back in towards Mom
We even got the chance to see both whales decide to surface just off our right-hand side at one point as both Cardhu and her calf swam under the boat and went down on deeper dives.
Cardhu's large tail
Cardhu's calf
A few Minke whale sightings and another pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins wrapped up our trip as we made our way back towards Rye Harbor.  It was a wonderful day of whales and will be anxiously awaiting to be back out on the water tomorrow!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thursday July 26

With the weather forecasters on land calling for all kinds of potential weather today we were beyond pleased when we only dealt with a few sprinkles this morning and very calm seas for most of the day!  The cloudy skies provided the perfect dark background for spotting whale spouts out in the distance as the exhalations were a vibrant white contrast to the darker skies beyond. 

This morning between seeing 11 different Minke whales throughout our travels today we also got the chance to see more marine life before we even got to Jeffreys Ledge. 
You can even tell Minke whales apart from each other based on their dorsal fin shapes.  Two of the many different Minke whales we spotted this morning (above and below)
Early on in our travels we found a pair of Fin whales which turned out to be a mother and her calf!  The pair didn't remain together for long as after a few minutes, mom started to circle the area, probably going in search of some small schooling fish as the calf was spending time almost a 1/2 mile away. 
Fin whale mom #9904 (above) and her calf (below)

Looks like this calf is quite adventuresome as it maneuvered around on it's own while we ended up being in an area a bit closer towards mom.  We were able to identify the pair as #9904 and her calf as these whales have definitely been seen over the course of the season this year continuously breaking apart for periods of time before returning back up together.  Glad both whales continue to be spending time in our area!

As we made our way offshore we passed a few more Fin whales as we came into an area where 2 Humpback whales and another Fin whale were working the area!  The Humpback whale pair was another mom/calf pair!  One trip and two species of mothers and their calves....AWESOME.  While the Humpback whales, Cardhu and her calf, swam around a Fin whale was utilizing the abundance of food too as both Carhdu and the Fin whale were leaving indications of feeding behaviors on the surface for us. 
Cardhu was creating bubble clouds while our Fin whale was lunging through the water and even left some brown defecation at the surface, both sure-fire signs of feeding!  At one point Cardhu was surfacing just behind where the Fin whale surfaced.  Both were right in line with each other!  It was a great sight seeing two very large species enjoy the supply of food swimming underneath the surface.
Cardhu's calf surfacing and spending some time right next to the boat while mom was searching for fish!

Before heading home we took a slight detour as we heard reports of dolphins not terribly far away.  We knew it was going to be a gamble as these whales swim so quickly but luckily enough we were able to spot them and spend a bit of time with the ~75 animals in the pod.  A very nice ending to an already very nice trip.

This afternoon we were heading offshore when once again plenty of Minke whales surfaced near by.  Knowing there were more Minke whales, and other species, further offshore we chanced the fact of passing by a few of these animals to give us a bit more time offshore in case other critters had moved around the area a bit.  Luckily we were able to find 4 Fin whales and 3 Humpback whales during our afternoon excursion.  We got a really nice look at one of the Fin whales as it spent time surfacing just along side the boat, surprising many of us as it would effortlessly rise to the surface with barely a ripple on the water and exhale at a rate of 300mph!  Now that's a lot of air and ultimately quite the noise especially when you are not expecting it!
Dorsal fin of our sneaky close Fin whale

We pressed further offshore and got a chance to spend time with Cardhu and her calf again. 
Cardhu's calf crashing through the waves as it surfaces with its lower jaw slightly extended all the while staying right alongside mom
Cardhu's calf being "just like mom"
Both whales were meandering through the water giving us some very nice looks when out of the blue the calf came clear out of the water!  As is always the case this behavior is always very unexpected and as quickly as the calf did it, it was over.  A few of us on board even missed the jump in the first place as you truly had to be looking in the right place at the right time.  Otherwise, many folks saw the big splash as this whale crashed back onto the surface of the ocean.  The whale quickly went back to doing what it had been doing prior to the breach, swimming alongside mom as if nothing had happened.  Just incredible how in an instant a whale can, and does, change up its behavior.  Definitely not something you see out on the ocean every day but a very special treat for those of us who were lucky enough to see such an event.

Before turning for home we saw one last spout out in the distance and wanted to go investigate it.  There was another Humpback whale near by.  Beyond this whale we even saw a spout from another Fin whale but we were already 25 miles from home and we needed to head back to land soon.  Luckily we got the chance to snap a quick picture of our other Humpback whale in the area.  It is another whale to add to the list for 2012 sightings.  Backstroke, a whale seen on Jeffreys Ledge in 2010 is back once again.  Nice seeing you again Backstroke!
Backstroke's unique pigmentation pattern!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wednesday July 25

The whales have been "squirmy" this season, constantly moving around the Ledge in just a matter of hours, so after a day of staying on land we could only imagine what or where we might be so lucky to find whales.  Thanks to our fishing friends this morning we heard there were whales on the Ledge.  Turns out we actually spotted them just inside of Jeffreys Ledge.  Not only was it a pair, and more specifically a mother and calf pair, it was quite the familiar female Humpback whale.  Once again Pinball and her calf were in the area.
Pinball's unique black and white pigmentation pattern
As has been the case with this pair this season the two of them seem to move into the area, "disappear" for a few days to a week, and then one day poof(!) back they are in our neck of the ocean.  Perhaps this pair heads to the far side of Jeffreys Ledge to sections we are unable to venture to on 1/2 day trips but wherever they seem to be swimming to and fro we certainly enjoy seeing them each and every time we encounter the pair in our area.
Pinball and her calf

We ended up making our way to another part of the Ledge this morning and ended up coming upon another mother/calf Humpback whale pair.  This time it was a "newcomer" to the area this season.  Cardhu and her calf have made they journey to our area as they were recently recorded by reserachers on other feeding grounds here in the Gulf of Maine. 
Cardhu's all black tail
Who knows how long these two whales may stick around as maybe they are perhaps just passing through the area, but we enjoyed the chance to watch these two animals circle around this morning.

Before heading for home we kept seeing in the distance a few more whale spouts.  Visibility was spectacular today so we were seeing whale spouts from miles away.  Once we got closer to the area we realized there were 3 Fin whale nearby!  In just a matter of minutes we spotted all 3 whales surface with their lower jaws fully extended outward; these whales were filtering out lots of salt water!

Filtering Fin whale surfacing for a breath of air
When there is filtering occurring it can only mean one thing... these Fin whales were feeding on food further down in the water column!  At one point we had two out of the three whales surface on either side of the boat filtering out water, becoming a "filtering Fin whale sandwich."  Awesome!!!!
The super interesting chevron (swirly gray shading) pattern of this Fin whale

One of our Fin whales was identified as  #0922

With such great sightings and the wind slacking off the longer we were on the water we knew the afternoon was going to be just as exciting.  It didn't take long to do just that!

Thanks to our friends on the Atlantic Queen this afternoon we were informed of a Fin whale on the way to Jeffreys Ledge.  We once again spotted the animal from a good distance away and as we made our way into the area we noticed another spout a bit further out in the distance.  Ultimately one Fin whale in the area turned into two, both identified as adult females!  These two whales, while never becoming associated with each other (swimming side-by-side), were both utilizing the area as they constantly circled in close proximity of each other. 
Super calm water + 1 large Fin whale = Awesome look at one of the second largest creatures on the face of this planet!
Times like these really get you to wondering just what each animal may, or may not be, communicating with each other.  Are they "talking?" Two 60+ ft animals in one area must clearly be informed of each other's location just from the shear size and movements of such a being, but is one moving aside for the other, are they going after the same ball of bait, is one feeding above/below the other?  Oh to be a whale sometimes or at least have a sense as to what in the world is going on below the ocean's surface as we see just a glimpse of these whale's lives while floating above the waterline.  Such mysteries...
Two adult female Fin whales: #9709 (above) and #9904 (below)

After some truly spectacular looks at these two massive mammals we ventured further offshore to see what else may be swimming around.  Our next sighting was much smaller than our Fin whales.  We found a group of 25 Atlantic white-sided dolphins! 

This pod was doing some traveling but did do a few circles around the boat, allowing for some very nice looks, before continuing on their way.  A special treat and yet we still had a bit more time to look for more whales. 
The "white" part of an Atlantic white-sided dolphin
We passed a handful of Minke whales, and even a Blue shark, during our travels knowing word was out that another species was a bit further offshore and we wanted to make sure we had the time to see these whales as well before making our way back towards Rye Harbor.  It was Cardhu and calf again!  These two whales originally were doing a bit of traveling but soon were just circling around the area as more often than not it was Cardhu's calf that showcased its tail more so than Mom.

Cardhu and her calf
Cardhu's calf's tail above the waterline
Thanks to all our energetic passengers today from all around the world!  We had whale spotters all around the boat today giving us the chance to point out all the different marine life we passed and/or spotted throughout our travels!