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!

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