Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thursday August 30

Our trip today brought us back to an area where whales have been lurking around Jeffreys Ledge recently and were happy to see as we made our way into the area the whales were still there.  We got the chance to spend time with 4 Humpback whales today.  Once again it was apparent most of them were taking some naps.  Our first stop was on a pair.  It was Owl and Ember. 
Ember and Owl
Ember has been spending A LOT of time south of us thanks to a current project with folks at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.  Ember is one of the whales that got tagged this season as a project to learn more about the tags themselves and the movements of some of the whales in the Gulf of Maine.  To check out Ember's movements and more about the project check out the Satellite Tag Humpback Whale Project.  No only was it exciting to see Ember today, this is the first time this whale has been sighted on Jeffreys Ledge at all this season.  To make things ever more interesting it was swimming alongside Owl, another favorite whale we on the Granite State are especially fond of.  Two fun whales and both just slowly moving around the area!

As we ventured in search of more whale activity we caught a quick glimpse at a Blue shark.  This shark stayed just below the surface and did not seem to mind us sneaking over to it to catch a quick look before heading over to more whales spouts.  It was a fun, random sighting, of a fish we don't always get the chance to find while out on the open ocean.

Blue shark swimming along (dorsal fin on the right, tail on the left)
As we eased our way from the shark to the whales we quickly realized we had a mother and her calf Humpback pair nearby.  The calf was on the surface for a long, long time.  For the first part of our time in the area we didn't even see mom.  Finally mom surfaced just ahead of the calf and we knew we were watching Clamp and her calf!  The last time we saw this pair was on July 17.  A month and a half later these two are back!  We ended up watching the calf nap on the surface almost the entire time we were in the area. 
The waves were increasing in size and caused Clamp's calf to pop up most of the top of its head above the surface to get a good breath of air!
A few times mom was swimming just below the calf but, with a bit of wave action offshore this afternoon, it was a bit tricky to see if the two of them were actually touching or just swimming extremely close to one another.  Regardless we were able to spend some incredible quality time with this pair. 
Clamp and her calf surfacing for some air as they swim directly into the waves
The calf started to swish its tail side to side at one point and even rolled ever so slightly during the process allowing us to see a bit of the whale's unique pigmentation pattern!
Eventually the calf woke up and exhibited some nursing behaviors.  Even whales wake up from naps and get hungry just like us humans!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday August 29

Today our trip started with an unusual, and large, sighting.  While it is meant to be in the water it wasn't actually a whale or a fish at all!  The HMS Bounty was spending a bit of time around the Isles of Shoals and what better way to start a day out at sea than with a very famous boat!  The replica, HMS Bounty, was originally built for the 1962 movie "Mutiny on the Bounty."  More recently this square-rigged sailing vessel was used in the "Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Mans Chest" as the Edinburgh Trader.  A "pirate" ship that was set nicely in the foreground of some of our own pirate stories in New England here amongst the Isles of Shoals. 

The HMS Bounty
After searching for pirates we were headed offshore and shifted gears as we were off in search of whales!  The ocean was just right for our first sighting of whales... We had a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins close by. 
This group of 85 individuals were effortlessly moving through the water at a very relaxed pace (for such fast moving whales!) and with the calm seas we could watch their every movement as these whales swam along side the boat! 
Flat calm water cannot be beat when we come across a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins
We recently have been lucky having the opportunity to encounter this type of whale out on Jeffreys Ledge.  Interestingly enough, with all the data that has been collected over the years, thanks to our whale watching boats and the Blue Ocean Society, we really do typically see this type of marine mammal only 20-25% of our whale watching trips!  For anyone who joined us at the start of the season, you were well aware that it took us 1 and 1/2 months before we came across a pod of dolphins after seeing them on our very first whale watching trip this year.  Who knows, maybe we will be without any sightings of these agile critters soon but until that day comes we, and all our passengers, sure do enjoy the moments of watching such graceful creatures of the Gulf of Maine.

Once we continued further offshore closer to Jeffreys Ledge we made our way into an area where we began to see whale spouts in every direction out in the distance.  Granted our visibility was widespread, allowing to search miles in all directions, and soon we didn't know where to start!  We decided to head a bit further offshore and check out some of the whales before changing course and checking out some animals a bit closer to home.

Turns out all the whales we spent time with today were Humpback whales.  Many of these whales are once again back on Jeffreys Ledge whether continuing to swim around the area, or having decided to return once again this season, we certainly enjoy familiar tails and even a new additions into the mix as well today!  A few Minke whales surfaced but being a bit erratic in their movements we chose to ease our way towards a pair of Humpback whales first.  Owl and Orbit were swimming side-by-side. 
Owl is once again back on Jeffreys Ledge as she was sighted a few times on the ledge earlier in the season
Even at the end of August we are still seeing newcomers to the area.  Welcome to Jeffreys Ledge this year Orbit!
Instead of swimming however, these two whales were more likely seen napping on the surface rather and swimming at the surface.  Both animals remained very relaxed, bobbing at the surface, and giving all of us some very nice looks at these two large female whales.  Little did we know just about all of our Humpback whales today were spotted napping on the surface, and for that matter almost every single one of them was a known female.  We saw 9 different Humpback whales during our travels today and got the chance to check out 7 of them spending time in our area.  Our next grouping consisted of a trio of females: Valley, Perseid, and Bat.  Bat was last sighted on Jeffreys Ledge August 9 so it was a nice surprise to see her return again as the season continues to progress.  All three of these whales were also spending plenty of time at the surface, napping, though Perseid definitely appeared to be a bit more "wiggly."   This whale would breathe for a few breaths disappear for a minute further down in the ocean depths and then surface once more while the other two lady-whales just hovered at the surface nearby.  Check out just how unique a few of our Humpback whale tail's truly are when compared to each other:
At one point Valley definitely became a bit more focused when she started to arch her entire body.  She was sticking her belly down while her snout and back were raised high above the surface.  Then I saw her do something I have never seen a Humpback whale do.  There was a brief, and yet very noticeable, time frame when Valley managed to get a small patch of floating seaweed to lay just on top of her snout/head.  It didn't move anywhere but stayed almost perfectly placed right at the tip of her head.  I have heard of whales "playing" in, or with, seaweed but have never witnessed it myself. 
Valley in an "arch" position with a small patch of seaweed resting on the tip of her head!
I am no expert in this particular whale behavior department but I certainly do feel confident in saying Valley was well aware of that floating flora residing on her body as she maneuvered herself in the water to come in contact and keep the broken-off patch right there on the tip of her head.  While Valley's intentions are only known to her it certainly was a reminder of just how intelligent and well-knowing of their surroundings these whales certainly possess.

We had a bit more time to investigate a few of the other whales were were seeing in the area so after easing our way away from the trio we headed over to a few other pairs.  We eventually ended up spending time with one more pair of Humpback whales: Patches and Springboard.  And guess what???  They too were sleeping.  Patches changed things up a bit at one point as this whale, and presumably the only male Humpback whale we saw today, eased its way over to us.  Patches decided to come check us out as we were checking it out!  A small spy hop and a good time just facing us was enough of the curious approach to watch as this large whale moved ever so easily up the entire length of the boat.
Patches bringing its top part/point of its head out of the water
Patches surfacing right next to the boat!
Patches off on a deeper dive

We certainly had quite the sightings today and even on our ride home we were still not done.  Just over a mile from home we came across our final ocean-dwelling creature of the day.  An Ocean sunfish was basking in the sun!  What an unexpected find so close to land.  The fish made no attempt to swim away so we got some great looks at this unique looking fish before pulling into the harbor.  It was another wonderfully unexpected day looking at wildlife!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday August 25

Where to start today?  The weather could not have been better so that in and of itself was just incredible.  Add into the mix the fact that we saw LOTS of whales during both trips today and you couldn't ask for anything more.  Well at least we certainly don't believe so.

The day consisted of "Grand Slams" on both trips.  We saw and spent time with our four most commonly seen whale species on each of our adventures to Jeffreys Ledge.  Any day you see just one whale is wonderful so really to get the chance to see multiple species in such great ocean conditions truly does not get any better.

Our first stop this morning was on a group of Atlantic white-sided dolphins.  This pod was generally on the move but diverted course a few times to swim in our wake as we maneuvered in their direction.
Great day for watching dolphins!
Such dolphins are always an added treat, not only to see them in general, but to watch these wild animals choose to jump through our wake is completely a decision they make, not us.  We left our whales to continue on their movements as we headed out towards Jeffreys.  The ocean truly resembled a lake throughout the entire day so spotting whales was constant as we traveled. Minke whales surfaced and when we got to the ledge Fin whales started to surface.  Out in the distance we saw a few other Fin whales but ended up with some incredible looks at two of these large mammals as the surfaced right alongside the boat! 
Fin whale spout
Two of the many Fin whales seen this morning (above and below)
With some incredible looks we continued on our way and ended up coming into an area where were started to see multiple spouts.  Before making our way to the whales there was more disturbance just ahead of us.  A small group of fish were on the move.  As this group constantly jumped out of the water we can only imagine there must have been something lurking below the water's edge chasing after them! 
Fish swimming/leaping/jumping away!
As for the whales, all the spouts we were seeing were from a different species.  There were Humpback whales everywhere.  We spent a bit of time with a trio of these animals.  Fulcrum, Perseid, and Valley were all together, all females, and all sleeping on the surface. 
Valley and Fulcrum at the surface while Perseid is off on a deeper dive
Without even seeing their tails you can see just how drastically different these animals' back can look in comparison to each other.
An unfortunate "band of misfits" as 2 o the 3 whales are basically lacking or have terribly mangled dorsal fins

Luckily even with the interesting dorsal fins we must all remember these whales are still around, swimming and acting like all the other whales, we see out here.  They are alive and well.  As we left our trio to continue with their napping behaviors we ended up watching Patches next.  This whale was circling around the area and gave us some nice looks as this whale also decided to surface right alongside the boat!
Patches (above and below)

Before wrapping up the trip we watched another pair of Humpback whales move into the area.  Clipper and Bolide were on the move together. 
Clipper's large and in charge body
Bolide going on a deeper dive
A few looks at them and yet another small pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins in a feeding frenzy on our way home made for an all-around incredible trip.  What a plethora of activity this morning as we started to only imagine what the afternoon trip might bring.

Little did we know with all the whales we had seen and spent time with this morning none of the whales were were the same individuals we saw this afternoon (except we believe for the dolphins!).  On our travels back to the ledge this afternoon we once again encountered a group of dolphins.  This pod was most definitely larger than our morning groups and yet we believe perhaps our two morning groups may had formed together over the course of the morning hours.  A few of the dorsal fin photos captured from this morning's and afternoon's pods verified at least a few of the same dolphins were being seen but regardless we were excited to spend time with such a fun sighting to start off our afternoon.
More dolphins!
Our next whales abruptly started to appear all at the same time.  Once on the ledge we soon spotted Fin whales, Humpback whales, and yet another group of Atlantic white-sided dolphins.  Where to start!?!?!  We made our way towards the dolphins as we soon noticed larger whales were in the mix of the toothed whales.  The dolphins were swimming in tandem with a trio of Fin whales. 
Dolphins swimming out in front of the Fin whales
Once the Fin whales resurfaced, three turned into FIVE Fin whales AND the dolphins all on the move together!!!!  A couple of the Fin whales in this group were identified as Ladder and #0308 along with #0834 seen just beyond the group paired up with a different Fin whale in the area.  Inter species craziness is pretty much what we were seeing.  Very rarely do we see Fin whales grouped up together, let alone five, all the while having a group of 25-30 Atlantic white-sided dolphins shift to their every moment.... spectacular. 
Fin whale #0308 at the surface with a few of the "escorting" Atlantic white-sided dolphins!
Oh but that wasn't all.  Along with the 11 Fin whales we counted in total throughout the afternoon trip we also counted 5 Minke whales and 6 Humpback whales in the area.

The Humpback whales were spending a good bit of time under the water making it a bit challenging to decided where to maneuver the boat to attempt to get a look at any of these whales.  Eventually our patience paid off as we got some great looks at a few of these whales circling around.  We were able to identity Howler, Jabiru, and Tusk in the area.  The others seemed to be surfacing for a single breath so we decided to stick with the whales a bit closer to us.
Can you find the coyote "howling" at the moon?  Hint: the answer is on the right-hand side of this whale's tail

Such was the case today when sometimes we can identify these wild whales by their dorsal fins instead of their pigmented tails for this is Jabiru the Humpback whale
Just before heading for home Tusk decided to change things up.  All of a sudden this whale began tail breaching, lobtailing, and even rolling over on its belly and continuing to lobtail.  This whale was out in the distance all on its own and yet suddenly became active.  Researchers still do not know why whales do such activity but when you happen to be in the right place at the right time and witness such the behavior it is breath-taking.

Yes there were lots of whales today but the shear number of animals was not what made this day so great.  The fantastic weather coupled with some incredible looks at just a few of the many mammals seen today was just the beginning.  Having lots of first-time whale watchers, Birthday celebrations, and plenty of familiar returnees along with what Mother Nature had in store for us today is really what made this day so fantastic.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday August 24

Mother Nature has continued to provide beautiful weather and wonderful whales out on Jeffreys Ledge this season.  Today was another one of those days.  Both our trips were for once actually semi-similar experiences.  This doesn't happen very often for many times whales will move on, or move out of an area, change up their behaviors, and sometimes disperse or aggregate all together.  Today not only did we get a chance to see multiple Fin whales and a few Minke whales, we also spent time with three Humpback whales exhibiting very similar behaviors at all hours of the day!

All throughout our travels today we got the chance to take a look at a few of the many Fin whales that kept surfacing sporadically on and around Jeffreys Ledge.

One of the many Fin whale spotted this morning

Large Fin whale seen this afternoon!
Amongst all the Fin whales, and the few Minke whales seen darting around, we also saw two very relaxed Humpback whales today.  Both this morning and this afternoon we came across Piña and Chablis.  All day, at least during the times we were out on the ledge (who knows if anything changed during the couple hours we were away in between our morning trip and the afternoon boats spending time out on the ledge), these two whales were napping side-by-side.  At the surface both these whales would almost appear to hover on the water's edge, as their backs bobbed at the surface, basically floating on the water just like we were. 
Morning (above) vs. afternoon (below).  Piña and Chablis stay in synchrony in their spouts and their body movements resting at the surface
As we spent time with these animals a few times they awoke this morning to slightly roll to one side (Chablis) and eventually awoke enough to snap a few pictures of their tails before once again returning to their napping position.
Chablis slowly rolling the back half of its body causing a small portion of its tail to break the surface
Chablis off on a deeper dive while Piña remains resting on the surface
The snout of Piña (left) and her dorsal fin just barely breaking the surface (right) allowing all our passengers to see this whale's hair follicle's; those bumps on the whale's head!
With some incredible looks at these whales we left them to continue with their mellow day and ended up getting a chance to see another Humpback whale.  Crystal never seemed to be heading in any particular direction and once again enjoyed getting a few looks at such a specially named whale.
Crystal going on a deeper dive this morning
Maybe tomorrow will bring more of the same or maybe something completely different but we all know there is only one way to find out!
To see Crystal tomorrow (or any of the other individual whales seen today!) or not?  That is the question...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thursday August 23

It didn't matter if it was our morning or afternoon trip as we had a "Grand Slam" of whale species on both of our offshore adventures today!  This morning we saw 6 different Fin whales, some circling, some spending plenty of time under the water, and yet all the while still getting the chance to see just how impressive in size these whales truly are.  We then shifted gears a little as we got the chance to spend time with a group of toothed whales.  There were 30-40 Atlantic white-sided dolphins ahead of us.  This particular group was spread out in the general area consisting of smaller groups, sub-pods, as these whales continued to move through the water together.  We ended up with one of these smaller groups circling a tight area (probably chasing after some fish in the water) allowing for us to get some great looks at these agile mammals.

Next we were back to baleen whales as more Fin whales were sighted on Jeffreys Ledge.  These whales were on the move and actually heading towards an area where another species was. 
One of the many Fin whales we saw during our travels today
A Humpback whale was also spending some time out in this particular section of the ledge.  Anyone want to take a wild guess as to which whale it was??  Crystal of course!  Another day to add to the time this whale is spending in our small section of the Gulf of Maine.  We once again got some great looks as Crystal was just circling around the area.
Our morning trip was almost complete after spotting 13 Minke whales over the course of our travels when we got some great looks at one more Fin whale on our ride home.  This animal surfaced close by as we were heading back towards Rye Harbor and soon realized this whale was probably as mellow as many of our passengers were.  This whale was catching a quick nap!  This Fin whale continuously stayed just below the water's edge barely moving forward; a good indication of a resting whale! 
Uniquely scarred Fin whale going on a deep dive after a quick afternoon nap!
This whale remained like this for a few minutes and only after this whale woke itself up and went on a deeper dive did we ease out of the area and continue with our travels back to the mainland all the while basking in the warm sunshine of the afternoon hours.

This afternoon we were off to check out Jeffreys Ledge once again.  On our travels out we came across a few Fin whales scattered in all directions around the boat but soon saw signs of other whale activity.  Constant splashing was out in the distance.  Knowing dolphins can disappear soon after they appear if gone unwatched, we decided to make our way in their direction before they swam off.   This group was creating quite the ruckus, zipping and zagging in all directions, definitely chasing down food!  This particular group gave our passengers once again the extra treat of seeing such a quick-moving species.
Who doesn't love seeing a wild dolphin?
After leaving the dolphins we got the chance to see a few Fin whales surface nearby as we wanted to make our way to yet another species of whale that our Blue Ocean Society affiliated whale watching boats had reported.  Amongst more Fin whales, including #0354, we made our way to a Humpback whale.  It was Pumpkin Seed.
Pumpkin Seed's back and dorsal fin (above) and tail (below)

This whale was definitely eating some food this afternoon as we saw lots of bubble clouds rise to the surface created by this whale somewhere in the ocean depths.

Before heading for home we also went and checked out the other Humpback whale swimming around on its own.  Past the couple Minke whales, and 2 other Fin whales in the area, we made our way to Crystal still going strong.  A nice way to wrap up the day for just before we left we also got a quick look as Crystal slapped its tail on the water, creating all sorts of saltwater to burst into the sky.

Lots of vertical water as Crystal whacks its large tail on the surface of the ocean!
Even from this slightly angled photo we are enjoying this familiar tail.  Crystal once again