Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday October 13

The sad news: today marks the end of the 2012 season for us aboard the Granite State.  The good news: whales continue to swim around our small portion of the expansive Gulf of Maine which thus enabled us to end the season with plenty to look at!  2 Minke whales, a Lion's Mane Jellyfish, and 10 Humpback whales certainly kept the attention on the marine life and slightly distracted us from the chilly temperatures known to be present in mid-October out on the open ocean.

After travelling only 10 miles from Rye Harbor we altered course for the captain had spotted a few spouts.  Our first whales of the day were two Humpback whales.  Owl and Churn were on the move together.  Owl has been a recent frequenter to our area over the last 10 days but it has been 7 weeks since we last saw Churn! 

Amazing how these mammals can pass on through the area at some point over the course of the year, are sighted for a day or two, and then depart for days/months only to once again return to a particular area.  Where did this whale travel to? Why did it come back? How long will it remain in the area?  With all the knowledge we have learned over the years from researchers watching, collecting, and recording information regarding these mammals we still have a lot to uncover.  All the more reason to continue venturing out to Jeffreys Ledge year after year!  With a few more looks at this pair we were about to leave when something was spotted not to far away.  A Lion's Mane Jellyfish was moving around just below the surface.
I do promise this "red blob" is actually a Lion's Mane Jellyfish alive and moving through the ocean :)

This is only the second time we have ever seen one of these jellyfish and they certainly are cool to look at.  With the wind creating some wave action it was a bit tricky to capture a fun photo of it but we tried to make sure everyone around the whole boat could catch a quick glimpse at this large marine life before leaving it to continue on with its day.  As we eased our way from the Lion's Mane and the two Humpback whales we began to head over towards where we were seeing a few other exhalations just out in the distance. 

Next stop, two more Humpback whales.  Jabiru was moving through the area in tandem with another Humpback whale.  We actually never saw either one of these whales bring their tails above the waterline (to hopefully capture some of that black and white pigmentation pattern unique to each Humpback whale) but since these whales are wild animals we only get to see what the whales want us to see.  Many times the whales do not need that extra lift of a tail to go further down in the water column and so instead we see a strong arch and that is that.  Sometimes however, we are lucky enough to see some of the same whales over the years, or over the course of a single season, and begin to recognize a whale just based on its dorsal fin.  Such was the case with Jabiru as this whale, at least to my eye, has such a low-profile dorsal fin that many times a quick look at it and low and behold Jabiru is close by. 
Jabiru's dorsal fin

We are still working on figuring out exactly who Jabiru's friend may be and will of course let you know if/when we have any news!
It takes a bit more time but we can sometimes identify Humpback whales from their dorsal fins.  Hopefully we will find a match for you!

With our friends aboard the Prince of Whales also out in the area searching for whales we both started to see spouts from a tight-knit group.  More whales were out in the distance.  We made our way towards the spouts as we passed by another non-fluking Humpback whale before we began to ease into the area as the group of whales were down on a deeper dive.  Eventually a whale surfaced.  Another Humpback whale was in the area.  We watched this whale for a while and wondered where all the other spouts/whales had gone as we continued to watch this single whale move around.  Suddenly, we knew the answer.  One whale instantly turned into 3 Humpback whales side by side!  Not only was it great to see this trio, but wow(!) they were on the move!  Not quite sure what was causing these whales to charge through the water (maybe darting around each other, or perhaps chasing after food) but these whales were crazy to watch.  One moment they would be swimming in one direction and then whack!  Suddenly a 20+ ton whale would appear to slam on the brakes and push through the water in a completely different direction!  White water continued to be created as the swish of these whales tails would move these mammals in circles in every which direction. 
Incoming Humpback whale!

We ended up not even moving at one point as the whales originally were swimming along with us, then swam directly in towards us, then drastically altered course only to drastically alter course once again moments later!  It was quite the sight to see.  Eventually our trio began moving in a particular direction and eventually we got the chance to see each whale's tail above the water.  Turns out Grommet, Chromosome, and Buzzard were creating quite the ruckus. 

We even got a quick look at Buzzard's flipper while in all the commotion Buzzard decided to roll over on its side.  It was a great way to wrap up the trip.
Buzzard's white flipper; the longest flipper for any type of whale in the whale-world!

However, it turned out we had one last stop before making our way back to Rye Harbor.  Another pair of Humpback whales surfaced close by as we were making our way back to the mainland.  Tornado and her calf were also spending some time inshore of Jeffreys Ledge.  Nothing like a mother and her calf to end the day with as these two whales effortlessly swam by.
Tornado and her calf at the surface
Tornado going beneath the ocean's surface as she swims just a few miles beyond the Isles of Shoals (in the background)

Many thanks to all who have joined us over the season and shared in so many memorable moments this year.  It has been quite the year as for the first time in Granite State history we saw whales on every one of our 167 trips this season.  Lots of trips and lots of whales has made the 2012 season a very special season.  Thanks again to all of you and we look forward to seeing you in 2013!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday October 7

Today was a quintessential fall whale watch.  Yes it was chilly, but the crisp clean air allowed for great conditions to see for miles as many friends, family, and excited folks were poised and ready for signs of whale life.  Some inshore splashes provided a few quick looks at some Harbor porpoise and even a HUGE school of Bluefin Tuna as we pressed on towards Jeffreys Ledge.

Soon we drastically altered course as we sighted spouts a few miles away.  A pair of Humpback whales were in the area.  Today's groupings of whales (as our friends from the Prince of Whales also pointed out in their blog today) even though we've been seeing many of the same animals over the past several days, the associations continuously keep changing and today was no exception.  First pair: Chromosome and Slingshot.  These whales originally were on the move but eventually slowed down their movements as Chromosome started to nap while Slingshot meandered close by.
Slingshot and Chromosome swimming around together

Next we made our way to another Humpback whale: Patches.  A Minke whale surfaced out in the distance and so we got the chance to catch a quick look at that whale as we awaited for Patches to surface once again.  This whale was just circling around the area so we got some nice looks before we were off once again. 

We did a bit of searching and with no signs of whale life we needed to think about turning for home when suddenly a whale surfaced just up ahead of us.  A single Humpback whale was passing through the area.  However it didn't take long to realize exactly who this whale was.  The scarred dorsal fin and uniquely-shaped tail was verification that we were crossing paths with Slingshot once again.  But where had Chromosome disappeared to?  Only one whale was taking breaths at the surface.  Slingshot and Chromosome had parted ways at some point and now we were just witness to this single animal in the area.  We were about to spend a bit more time with Slingshot and then head for home when word on the radio informed us that whales were just a few miles away.  We knew with the sun disappearing behind the clouds and the breeze picking up that it was chilly out on the water, but we wanted to make the extra effort to quickly see the reported whales close by and then truly turn for home.

The whales were a trio of Humpback whales.  Tornado, her calf, and Partition were on the move together.  Most of the time we watched Partition and Tornado's calf rest at the surface but the calf became a bit squiggly at one point when this whale decided to roll on its back.  As it did so this whale's flipper lifted high into the air.
Tornado's calf "small" flipper!
Even from a calf a whale's flipper is impressive to see above the waterline.  As effortlessly as the flipper was visible it disappeared just as quickly as the calf continued to roll right-side-up and continue swimming with the two adults.
Tornado, Tornado's calf, and Partition moving through the area
More often than not we watched Tornado's calf spend its time closer to Partition than Tornado today.  Then again Tornado did not surface as often as Partition so maybe one whale was "whale-sitting" while Mom was searching for food.  Not a fact, just a theory.

On our ride home we had one more unexpected diversion as just off our port side two more Humpback whales surfaced together.  Wait a second, we've seen that dorsal fin!  Chromosome was part of a pair but in such a short time period this whale was now associated with a completely different whale.  Barbell (who had not even been seen at all today!) was now swimming in tandem with Chromosome. 
Hello Barbell.  What direction did you swim in from?

How quickly whale bonds can form and fissile is such short time frames.  We have no idea why these animals group up in the first place and were very much intrigued to witness Chromosome make the rounds to different whales in the area especially ones we didn't even know to be close by to begin with!
Chromosome (above and below) was certainly the "socialite" throughout the day
Wonder how long Chromosome and Barbell remained associated with each other, and if any other whale joined in the fun, or if one of the two found different "friends" to swim near soon after encountering this pair?  So many questions, such a big ocean, and such a small look into the lives of these animals.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday October 6

Even though the ocean itself made for some extra motion while out on the water today our hardy passengers were undeterred as we spent time watching all kinds of whales today.  Our grand total for the day was a "Grand Slam"  of species (4 to be exact) of a Fin whale, Minke whale, pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins, and 7 Humpback whales!

We were delighted to see a Fin whale for our first sighting of the day for Fin whales have seemed to be a bit sparse recently.  This whale was spending a bit of time under the water and only surfacing for a few breaths at a time but this "greyhound of the sea" certainly wasn't moving around too quickly.  One of the second largest animals in the world was circling around the area before it began to head in a direction opposite of where we wanted to make our way towards.  With a few more breaths of air we watched as this whale continued on with its day and we decided to continued on with ours.  Soon another spout was spotted just ahead of us.

A different species was in the area.  It was a Humpback whale.  As this whale swam at the surface we quickly realized this was another new visitor to Jeffreys Ledge.  This whale's dorsal fin was so interestingly shaped and scarred that even without seeing the black and white pattern on this whale's tail we knew a new whale was in our midst. 
Notchy's very unique dorsal fin

Unfortunately the entire time we watched this whale, as it went on a deeper dive, this animal would just barely bring its tail to the surface of the ocean.  Luckily our whale-wise crew member had an inkling as to who it might be.  Once getting back on land and verifying the tail we indeed knew who we spent time watching today.  Notchy the Humpback whale was in our area!  This whale spent most of the time circling around and just before leaving we were greeted to an extra "present" left at the surface.  A red cloud began to form as Notchy went on a deeper dive.  We had whale poop!  Looks like Notchy had recently had been consuming krill and was getting rid of some digested waste!  Definitely not something many people expect, or normally, get a chance to see.  We left Notchy to continue circling around and soon we were off again to do some more exploring.  Soon word on the radio from our fellow whale watching friends aboard the Prince of Whales had a few whales around.

We made our way to the area and soon became surrounded by whale life.  We initially saw at least 6 Humpback whales near by.  These animals were separated into two groups of three and as we awaited for them all to resurface more whale activity became apparent close by.  A group of Atlantic white-sided dolphins were coming in towards us.  Suddenly we had dolphins surfacing all around us!  These whales were constantly changing direction and charging up and down the waves.  This particular pod was a blast to watch.  They would travel and then just as quickly turn in the complete opposite direction and swim right in towards us and right alongside the boat.  What a fun sighting!
Atlantic white-sided dolphins on the move right into the waves
Dolphins "flying" through the area
In between all this activity we slowly made our way over towards some of the Humpback whales.  This group was a pair and as they swam through the area, the dorsal fin from one of these whales instantly was recognized.  Even without seeing this whale's tail we knew another Humpback whale had come to Jeffreys Ledge.  Sword was back!  This whale has yet to be seen this season in our area and low and behold it was swimming with another whale we've seen on Jeffreys Ledge in the past.  Grommet was right alongside Sword.  It was great seeing more familiar tail patterns close to home!
Sword's exhalation is visible just beyond Grommet's tail

Our last looks of the day were spent with another group of Humpback whales.  Turns out Owl, Spoon, Chromosome, and Partition were all side by side. 
Owl, Chromosome, and Partition on the move together
Spoon and Chromosome
Owl, Spoon, and Partition currently at the surface
Over the past few days these whales have been in some combination of association with each other and only today did we get the chance to witness all of these adult whales moving in synchrony with each other.  What a way to end a day full wildlife everywhere.
Owl and Spoon both in the process of swimming further down into the depths of the ocean

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday October 5

The sun decided to come back to visit!  We were finally privileged to some sunshine during our trip as we spent the day watching whales in pairs and trios today.  Once again we started the day with the same trio we spent time with yesterday!  Tornado, her calf, and Barbell were slowly meandering around the area today. 
Tornado and her calf

Most of the time the calf was napping and even noted Tornado doing the same at one point at the surface.  All three whales remained in close proximity of each other which once again made getting looks at these wild animals very conducive. 
Close look at Tornado and her calf as they surfaced just off the port side!

Even though these whales were rarely raising their tails above the waterline we got some incredible looks as these three whales slowly swam around today.
Barbell, Tornado, and Tornado's calf all at the surface

We soon were on our way and interested in seeing what else may be around for we had a few more miles of visibility today thanks to low clouds slightly breaking apart, minimizing the fog, as we hoped for the sun to shine through.  Even with the slightly better conditions it was still tricky to sight a spout but our passengers were up for the challenge.  Minke whales and more Humpback whales were next on our list.  A couple of Minke whales were randomly surfacing but our eyes were focused on the three spouts we saw just ahead of us.  More Humpback whales and more naps appeared to be in order.  This trio of whales ended up consisting of Nine, Patchwork, and Slingshot. 
Nine was sighted for the first time this season on our very first trip (May 12) and has only recently been a visitor to the area in the past week once again.  Patchwork was sighted for the first time this year just  yesterday, and it has been years since Slingshot was last seen on Jeffreys Ledge.  2007 marks the last time Slingshot was documented by any of us on Jeffreys Ledge so it was very much an UNEXPECTED surprise to see this particular whale around again!  Instances like this certainly remind us of just how mysterious and wondrous whales are.  Has Slingshot been on Jeffreys Ledge over the years but has remained slightly too far away to see during a half day trip?  Is this really the first time this whale has returned to the area and we were just lucky enough to cross paths with it?  So many questions that intrigue us to the point of getting us hooked into the love and amazement of such graceful wildlife utilizing Jeffreys Ledge.
Nine, Patchwork, and Slingshot on the move together

Even with all of this activity we still had a bit more time to check out a couple of other whales nearby that our friends aboard the Prince of Whales were spending time with.  Two more Humpback whales were swimming together, Owl and Patches, and these whales had more "friends" around!  A group of Atlantic white-sided dolphins were in close proximity of these other two Humpback whales the whole time we were in the area!  The dolphins were continuously changing direction but not very quickly so by staying near the dolphins we knew the Humpback whales would surface close by, and they certainly did.
Atlantic white-sided dolphins while at the surface much more frequently than the Humpback whales were constantly remaining close by the Humpback whales' movements

We made sure to give the dolphins a bit more extra space (since they constantly kept circling around) and just waited for the larger whales to surface as we watched the dolphins remain close to Owl and Patches.
Patches napping on the surface close by

It was a great way to end the trip (even though a few times we had to hold our breath for so many recreational fishing boats were zipping by; please, please, PLEASE be vigilant when out on the ocean and look for whales ESPECIALLY when there is a whale watching boat stopped close to you!!!!!) and see all the interesting associations of whales, both large and small, today!

If you look closely at these photos (above and below) you can just make out the small dorsal fins of a few dolphins while Owl the Humpback whale is at the surface.  And did you know that Humpback whales aren't even close to being some of the larger whales in the ocean?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Thursday October 4

Though the weather is cooling down (and apparently also remaining drizzly for what seems like forever) the whales continue to swim around our area as we got the chance to see 2 Minke whales and 7 Humpback whales throughout our travels today.  As our Minke whales were seen circling around the area our Humpback whales appeared to either be on the move or napping as the afternoon progressed.

Our first sighting of the day was a trio of Humpback whales.  Tornado and her calf were moving through the area but today this pair was joined by another Humpback whale.  Barbell, a whale first seen in the Gulf of Maine in 2002, was swimming right alongside the mother/calf pair. 
All three whales were associated with each other and a couple times both the calf and Barbell slightly rolled on their sides.  Maybe each of them was checking the other out?  It was fun getting the chance to see the spectrum of sizes between all three whales ranging from Mom's (Tornado) impressive size to her "small" calf still less than a year old.  As we left these whales to continue on we ventured off in our own direction to search for more whale life. 

Our next sighting ended up being three more Humpback whales!  This trio consisted of all adults and all three of them we napping along the surface.  Spoon, Chromosome, and Partition spent the majority of the time we were in the area resting; giving us a great chance to see just how large some of these Humpback whales truly are (and Humpback whales aren't even one of the largest types of whales in the world!).

Spoon, Chromosome, and Partition all at the surface together
Chromosome and Partition providing a great example of just how unique the black and white patterns can be on each and every Humpback whale tail!

Before heading for home we checked out a few more areas including a spot where two Minke whales were circling around.  Both whales were constantly zigging and zagging so with a few looks we pressed on only to come across another Humpback whale just beyond where our Minke whales had been.  Another new visitor to Jeffreys Ledge was close by!  Patchwork has once again decided to check out the area.
What a nice surprise as we continue to spot more additions to the 2012 season even though it is already October; a reminder the season is not over yet!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sunday September 30

Have you ever wondered what whales do in the rain?  They do the exact same things they are seen doing when the sun is shining and the sky is blue!  Since whales are already surrounded by vast amounts of water to begin with, more falling from the sky does not seem to affect them one bit.  Turns out the only thing rain seems to affect out on the ocean is us humans as we seem to be the only mammals out there that try to avoid those rain drops.  There was not much wind to speak of as we headed further offshore but the ocean was providing a good-sized swell, a reminder of how much the ocean had been churned up just 24hrs beforehand, but with our hardy passengers who didn't mind the rain we were off in search of some whale activity.

With decent visibility we headed to where we had seen whales during our last trip out and slowed down to take a look around.  Within a few minutes we had spotted a whale.  It was a Minke whale.  This whale initially seemed to be circling around the area as it was sporadically surfacing all around the boat (very typical of Minke whale behavior) every few minutes.  Soon however, this animal started to spend more and more time in the depths of the ocean and so we decided to continue on our way.  Once we had eased our way out of the area we continued on to see what else may be spending some time in the general area.  Soon we saw a spout.  Moments later another spout became visible.  There were two whales up ahead of us.

Spoon was still in the area and still sleeping.  However, just alongside Spoon hovered another large Humpback whale.  It was Chromosome! 
Spoon just barely raising her tail above the water before swimming further down into the ocean

We very briefly saw Chromosome on Jeffreys Ledge September 1 so it was a very nice surprise seeing this whale back in the area and swimming in tandem with Spoon.  Since both whales were napping at the surface (barely moving and constantly remaining above the waterline) we were able to get some incredible looks at these adult whales. 
Spoon and Chromosome resting at the surface

Spoon was first sighted in 1977 and Chromosome first sighted in the Gulf of Maine in 1991, making these animals at least 35 years old and 21 years old!  It was great to see two older whales in the area before it was time to head back for home.
Chromosome going on a deeper dive as Spoon still hovers at the surface