Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wednesday July 11

This has been an incredible stretch of weather and it seem to be continuing, at least for now!  The whales have continued to be around Jeffreys Ledge but when you are talking of an area encompassing 33 miles long and anywhere from 5-11 miles wide, that is a lot of potential places a whale can move to with just a handful of rapid tail flicks.  While we once again got the chance to spend time with a few familiar whales today, these animals are most definitely not remaining in a particular area for long. 

Our morning trip began with a scattering of Minke whales on our way out towards the Ledge. 
You know it is going to be a good day when we spot whales (a Minke whale!) as we pass by the Isles of Shoals 6 miles offshore
We altered course after a bit once we heard from the charter fishing boats that whales had been spotted.  Thanks to our friends who keep an extra eye out on the water for mammals even though they are in search of fish we made our way over to a pair of Humpback whales.  It was Pinball and her calf.  The calf was a bit "wiggly" as we got the opportunity to watch the calf roll on its side and back a few times!  Even a flipper from a calf is impressive to see!
Pinball's calf on its side showcasing its bright white flipper
Half of the unique black and white pigmentation pattern on Pinball's calf's tail
Just before leaving the pair we noticed the calf had surfaced close to some fishing gear in the water.  This commerical gear marked a line running all the way to the bottom of the ocean (195ft of line running the length of the water column) to a net going after ground fish such as cod, pollock, and haddock.  Every moment of every day these whales are constantly dealing with human related activities out in the open ocean.  Fishing gear and boats are the only "predators" these mammals face.  Many of the whale species we see today have remnants of interactions with us humans.  Scars from entanglements in gear and interactions with boat (propeller and keel scars) are very much present on so many whales.  Luckily many have survived such the ordeal but not all whales are so lucky and end up perishing because of such interactions.  We all held our breath as Pinball's calf was moving toward the line.  A few breaths later and the calf went on a deeper dive raising its tail (a good steep dive for a calf) but our fear was far from over. 
The calf's tail with a some fishing gear, called a high flyer, just beyond
I know my heart skipped a beat, as I am pretty sure many others on board also sat in panic, as all eyes were on the gear.  Even after the whale was gone from the surface as it swims under the water any amount of line can get snagged on a whale's flippers, tail, or around the body if a whale starts to roll as it realizes it is in close contact with an unknown object.  The mini-heart attack occurred when we all saw the buoy and marker start to slip under the water.  As quickly as the gear began to go under (but what seemed to be a much longer period of time!) the gear popped back up to the surface.  Panic turned into a huge sigh of relief as we were so fixated on the gear making sure it was really staying put while we saw both Mom and calf surface a few minutes later out in the distance!  Whether it had been the calf who had made contact with the gear, or Pinball further under the water, we do not know but we were beyond happy to see both of them out in the distance freely swimming with no additional surprises trailing behind them.
Pinball and her calf

Once we knew both animals were a-okay and our pounding hearts returned to normal beats we continued on our way.  Soon we were seeing more spouts.  We first got a quick look at Halfmoon before heading off to investigate the other blows. 
Hello once again Halfmoon
It took a bit of time as we all waited for the whale that we had seen to resurface.  Finally we found the spout.  But it wasn't just one, or two, or three, for that matter.  Suddenly 4 Fin whales were at the surface!  But that wasn't it either.  A pod of 20 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were accompanying the movements of our Fin whales. 
Atlantic white-sided dolphins
We spent time moving with the dolphins which seemingly were staying with the group of Fin whales as every now and then we would have these massive whale surfaces right with our dolphin group! 
The tiny dorsal fins from our dolphins (left) while one Fin whale barely breaks the surface for a breath of air (right)
After snapping lots of pictures we realized there weren't 4 Fin whales in this group, there were at least SIX!!!!  While all six were never on the surface together at any give point in time, it seemed as though as we followed the dolphins, all six were surfacing at different intervals.  We can only imagine what the whales were doing underneath the surface but thanks to their unique dorsal fin shapes we were able to account for so many different Fin whales in the group of associated mammals!  Below are just a few of the uniquely shaped dorsal fins and bodies from some of our Fin whales.

Our afternoon trip continued with beautiful sea conditions as we first started with a Humpback whale.  But it wasn't any of the ones we had spent time with during the morning hours.  We got the chance to watch Ebony move through the water. 
She (yep even though she was by herself she has given birth to 10 calves over her lifetime; a very productive adult female!) was slowly traveling through the area given us some nice looks at her almost completely black tail.  As she pressed on we did too and made our way over to a pair of whales our friends on the Atlantic Queen had informed us of.  It was Pinball and her calf! 
This pair had moved 5 miles from where we had seen them in the morning and guess what?  Not a single marker/fishing gear line was visible nearby!  No need to panic this afternoon.  This part of the ocean was for now gear free! 
Pinball and her calf off on a deeper dive
We also can't forget throughout our travels we spotted plenty of Minke whales this afternoon too!  Let us hope this weather lasts for a while and our whale sightings continue to provide wonderful looks at all the marine life Jeffreys Ledge has to hold!

Fin whale surfacing while a dolphin moves in the same direction

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