Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday, September 18 2013

A perfect fall day! Beautiful calm weather, clear skies, not too cold, and plenty of whales to look at. We started off the day just off a shallow underwater ledge. There we saw a familiar fin whale which was taking some long dives perhaps looking for some of the fish we could see on the depth finder right at the bottom. We were in just over 300 feet of water at the time. While we were watching the fin whale we saw another whale in the distance and as we moved closer we got a chance to see one of our favorite humpback whales, Patches! Patches is actually the whale pictured on the Granite State brochure, so we're all big fans of his.

This whale has a muddy nose!

It's funny though, even Patches didn't look himself today. The underside of humpback whale tails are useful in identifying individuals, but when we saw Patches tail for the first time today it was backlit so it was a little hard to see (you can see the picture below). It first it looked like Patches, and then it definitely didn't because there was a big black mark on the left side that we hadn't noticed before.

In this picture you can see the splotch on the left side of Patches fluke is just mud and is starting to wash away.

Looking at patches head, though we saw it was covered in mud. We also had seen fish right on the bottom nearby with the fin whale, so we guessed that both these whales might have been feeding right on the bottom of the ocean. Sometimes humpback whales come back up from the depths with scuffing on their noses or if the bottom is soft they bring back some mud with them. This gave us the idea that maybe the black spot on the left fluke was actually just some mud that had gotten onto the tail. In fact, that's what it was! Next time we saw Patches' tail we could see that some of the mud had already washed off.

This fin whale is so long the dorsal fin doesn't come to the surface each time it comes up for breath. here you are just seeing the first half or so of the body. The cloud is the whales blow slowly dissipating in the wind.

It is fun to imagine what kind of underwater acrobatics Patches must have been doing to get mud on his tail of all places. In fact, scientists have been able to track individual whales on their paths underwater using sophisticated tags attached with suction cups. A computer program designed by Colin Ware, a researcher at UNH, can show the 3D path of the tagged whales underwater. This is one way we've gotten a peak into how these whales feed under the water where we can't watch them, and how they end up with mud of their faces (and apparently tails).

A big fin whale getting ready for a dive.

Our other big surprise today was some great looks at atlantic white sided dolphins. We encountered a pod of 30 or so animals not far from the fin whale and Patches. These animals were active and included a full compliment of baby dolphins all the way up to some very large adults. The biggest white sided dolphins can get up to 9 feet.

Here's the first picture I got a Patches' tail. I was very confused by that black spot on the left. It turned out just to be mud.

Patches is thought to be a male humpback whale. It is the male humpbacks that are famous for their elaborate songs. Some of our passengers we asking where they could hear some examples of whale songs, so here is a youtube clip I found with some interesting sounds. If you want to read a little bit more about whale acoustics, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology doesn't just listen to birds...

Some dolphins surfacing. See the little one on the left?

All in all, it was a great trip. We even got some good looks at harbor porpoise, which tend to be pretty shy around boats. We had a brief look at a minke whale in the area as well, meaning we saw 3 different species of baleen whales and 2 difference species of tooth whales. What a great day out on the water.

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