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!

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