Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wednesday July 18

A "typical" day (which is never typical when searching for wild animals!) usually involves searching the horizon for shiny black backs and dorsal fins above the surface.  This is often times tell-tale sign of whales.  Well while we certainly had no problem finding those shiny black backs all day today we certainly didn't see many of those triangular shaped dorsal fins!

Our morning started with a whale inshore of Jeffreys Ledge.  Being that it had surfaced not terribly far from the boat there was clearly enough body to know there was a good-sized whale nearby but never saw a dorsal fin.  Odd, but not completely unusual.  Only after this whale's next surfacing did we even realize what species we were watching.  A Minke whale was near by, a type of whale that normally has a pointed dorsal fin, was very much without.  A quick zoom in from a photo and a look at the other side of this animal clearly explained the reasoning behind our unusual looking mammal. 
The right side of our Minke whale (swimming from left to right)
The left side of our Minke whale (swimming from right to left)
At some point this whale not only lost its dorsal fin, but now has quite the "reminder" that is at least visible to us humans here on the surface of the ocean.  The white scarring surrounding a pinkish area looks to be the result of quite the altercation with line of some sort.  As depressing as it was to see the result of human-related activity to this whale, it was still swimming!  This whale has survived through what can only be imagined as quite an "experience," to say the least, and while still bares the scar/wound of its occurrence this whale still lives on.  Unfortunately, this was only the start to our "non-dorsal whale" day.

Further offshore we came across a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins that were just milling about the area.  This group of 8-10 whales gave our passengers some very nice looks as they weren't moving in quick motions which can sometimes be the case when we come across this type of whale.  A few more looks and we were off again towards Jeffreys Ledge.

We next stopped on a couple more Minke whales before seeing a Fin whale and Humpback whale surface near each other.  The Fin whale disappear almost as soon as it was seen so we stayed with the Humpback whale.  This animal too was lacking a dorsal fin!  The indentation and scar near the area indicates that at one point in time this whale did have a dorsal fin but for whatever reason now lacks it. 
No dorsal fin from this whale either!
The ocean was so calm that as this whale slowly swam through the water we could track it by its flippers even before it came up for a breath of air.  Eventually this whale dove and based on this whale's unique pigmentation pattern we knew it was Kohoutek!  Another new addition to the 2012 Humpback whales seen on Jeffreys Ledge.  It has been a couple years since seeing this whale around and enjoyed spending time with it this morning.

We were just about to alter course and go exploring when out in the distance there was a massive splash!  Another occurred moments later making it a very easy decision to go investigate just what was creating such the activity.  The jumping ceased but then the lob-tailing began and even from a distance we knew exactly who was behind the aerial activity.  It was Valley the Humpback whale.  Though she stopped (yep, Valley is an adult female!) jumping seeing such an enormous whale launch herself out of the water is a sight.  As we made our way into the area she apparently wasn't quite done with the active behaviors though. 
Humpback whale lob-tailing out in the distance
Valley kept rolling on her side, and upside down, slapping her flippers on the water. 
More rolling from Valley!
To see a 15ft white flipper above the surface is incredible but to HEAR the sound that is created as this 1-ton flipper lands back on the water is indescribable.  So impressive to see and be near.

Valley's large flipper and belly with lines (pleats) that help to provide more surface area inside this whale's mouth when feeding
After a quick downpour on our ride in this morning, we ventured out for our afternoon trip behind all the rain and enjoyed the cooler temperatures.  Our first stop was a group, a very large group, of whales!  There were 150 Atlantic white-sided dolphins swimming around. 
Another pod of dolphins!
Everywhere you looked these whales were at the surface.  Close, far, and in every direction, this pod was spotted!  This was by far the largest grouping of dolphins we have gotten the chance to see this season.  Not only was it a treat to see dolphins in general but a group so numerous was a great start to the afternoon.
The unique coloration pattern and reason for the name Atlantic white-sided dolphins

We then pressed on to where a few other whale watching boats were in the vicinity of more whale activity.  By the time we arrived into the area many of the boats were enjoying some last looks before having to head home so we hung back allowing the boats, and most importantly the whales, plenty of space before we eased our way into the area.  Our first looks ended up being a Fin whale in the area. 
Fin whale
This whale also seemed to surface and disappear all at the same time so we moved on to a few other spouts just beyond the area.  Two Humpback whales were swimming along together.  It was Valley and Kohoutek.  Two whales that had been seen earlier in the day on their own were now associated together. 
Valley's rounded dorsal fin in the background as Kohoutek also swims nearby
Valley (above) and Kohoutek (below)

The two were quite relaxed as they both "hovered" on the surface catching a quick nap before waking up and going on a deeper dive.  Just before leaving the area and after another quick rest at the surface Kohoutek rolled over and started flipper slapping as Valley surfaced in close proximity.  More bright white flippers!
Valley's back and Kohoutek's flipper!
In a few minutes these two whales went on deeper dives and so we made our way over to the other pair of Humpback whales we saw spouting.  These two whales had the most noticeable dorsal fins we had seen all day (minus the dolphins!).  One was so hooked you almost didn't even need to see the black and white pattern of the underside of this whale's tail.  It was Nile! 
Nile's very hooked-shaped dorsal fin
Nile was seen a handful of times last season and we are excited to have this whale spend some time on the Ledge once again this year.  Swimming in tandem with Nile was Barb.  As we spent time in the area we spotted a couple of Minke whales in the distance and then saw Kohoutek surface just beyond the pair.  Suddenly everything started to circle the area.
Barb following suit behind Nile as these two whales turn in towards the boat!
  Birds were all around, the whales were circling, and the fish finder was picking up lots of bait!  Looks like it was time to eat! 
Lots of food being picked up on our fish finder throughout the water column ranging from just below the ocean's surface towards the bottom 179ft down!
Both Nile and Barb continued to circle around together surfacing just behind one another while Kohoutek continued to surface just a bit further away.  Valley had decided to venture off in a different direction and so we spent our last remaining time with the whales closer to us.

Kohoutek surfaces swimming in one direction as Barb (in the foreground) surfaces going in the other direction!

These wild whales are sure keeping us enthralled as to their whereabouts and activities while out on Jeffreys Ledge.  We shall see what tomorrow brings!

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