Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday, September 25

Today I was reminded yet again as to why I love my job. Not just being a naturalist on a whale watch boat, but also being the research coordinator for a small non-profit that studies whales.  Today, during my wrap up in the harbor, I told our guests on board a snippet of information that we learned today regarding the social lives of whales.  For the rest you, you’ll have to wait to learn about our finding after we do a bit more data-sleuthing this winter.  But it’s really cool!!! 

Today we started off by looking at an ocean sunfish just a few miles from Rye Harbor.  This started off as a typical sighting with the sunfish just lazing at the surface as we gazed at its uniqueness. Then the big fish dove quickly, out of sight. Captain Pete told me to get ready to see it breach. I said, “Uh, OK…”.  Then, just as if our captain had this fish trained, it breached completely out of the water, not just once, but 3 times!! I have seen sunfish jump out of the water before, but never so predicted!!  Captain Pete had noticed this behavior several times before in his many years on the ocean and totally called it!  The sunfish is just hanging out, then it dives quickly out of sight, and then it breaches! So cool!!! Yet another little bit of knowledge I learned today!
Ocean Sunfish
 From there, we headed out to where the whales have been seen recently and soon came upon a pair of humpback whales and a small pod of Atlantic white sided dolphins. The whales were identified as Owl and Jabiru (named for a species of stork), who were also seen on yesterday’s trip. This pair was being pretty mellow, barely even lifting their flukes when they dove. The dolphins seemed to be tracking them underwater and staying right with them. It's also really cool that these 2 whales are both named after avian species!

Humpback whale, Owl, with a dolphin close by

Owl diving, Jabiru in the foreground
Then we spotted some more blows in the distance. We found another pair of humpback whales who we have yet to identify. A fifth blow was spotted nearby but we never got close looks at that mystery whale.  Fall whale watching continues to bring all sorts of surprises!!  I can’t wait to see what’s out there on Wednesday, our next trip!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday, September 24

Fall whale watching continues to be awesome! Today, after trying to look at some less-than-cooperative whales, we found a very obliging ocean sunfish, and then came upon a pile of whales, both toothed and baleen!    
Ocean sunfish
 A pod of around 75 Atlantic white sided dolphins were hanging out with a trio of humpbacks! 
Humpback trio

Atlantic white sided dolphins

Atlantic white sided dolphins
It is so amazing to have so much action all in one spot! We sometimes see dolphins near fin whales but it’s pretty rare to have them with humpbacks!  Our trio included 3 adult females (Owl, Jabiru and Fan). Owl, as she is known to do, surfaced close to the boat several times, bringing her 2 friends with her.  At one point we were downwind of the group and were privileged to be showered by humpback whale breath!   



As the dolphins swam around the boat (lots of calves in this group!!), we waited for the humpback to return. Before we knew it, a 4th humpback joined the group! This was a whale named “A+” for the distinct marking on the right side of its tail. I’m not sure if A+ is male or female. 
See the "A+" on the lower right side?
 Then a 5th humpback appeared on the outskirts of the group. This whale hasn’t been identified yet.   We decided to check out some of the other blows we saw nearby before heading for home. These blows were at least 3 different fin whales, the 2nd largest species of whale! 
Fin whale with Isles of Shoals and Portsmouth in the background
Awesome day! 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday, September 23

Today we had 5 Humpback whales and a small pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Some of the whales we spent time with have been residing in the region recently. Additionally, we also had a few new visitors to the area. Our trip began as we attempted to check out 2 Fin whales. Unfortunately, those whales did not resurface for a LONG time, so unless you happened to see them initially, it was a tough sighting to attempt to work. Instead we decided to move on to other spouts we were seeing in the distance. We eased our way to a pair of Humpback whales that were in association with a small pod of 8-10 Atlantic white-sided dolphins.
Atlantic white-sided dolphins
Rarely do we get a chance to see inter-species interactions so it was a great surprise.
Dolphins alongside a Humpback whale
To add to the already enjoyable sighting a third Humpback whale came into the mix causing us to now have a trio of Humpback whales along with the dolphins. The icing on the cake was when we were able to determine exactly who the Humpback whales were. We had some new visitors to the area; Churn and Fan!
We are still working on the identification of the third whale but Churn and Fan are familiar whales however, not always seen in our area. In fact, it has been a few years since the last time we saw Fan in the Jeffreys Ledge region. What a fantastic surprise!
With some great looks at all of this activity we maneuvered out of the area and came across another pair of Humpback whales. Jabiru and A-plus were side by side one another. They were resting during most of the time we spent time in the area. Nothing like finishing off the day with some calm, relaxed marine mammals in their natural habitat today!
A-plus and Jabiru

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday, September 22

Happy Autumn all! Our last hours of Summer and first few hours of Autumn were quite lovely this morning especially since we were watching whales in such pristine sea conditions today. We had a school trip today and enjoyed showing young minds a variety of marine mammals during our travels! The day started with a large pod of 75-100 Atlantic white-sided dolphins.
Atlantic white-sided dolphins
These whales were busy feeding and traveling and didn't mind our presence as we watched them swim through the water.
Slightly too zoomed in capturing these dolphins swimming alongside us!
Doesn't get much better than this with these Atlantic white-sided dolphins
We then checked out a pair of Humpback whales which turned out to be Geometry and Daffodil.
First pair of Humpback whales for the day
From there we were seeing more spouts in the distance so off we went to investigate. Turns out there were two Fin whales moving through the area and another pair of Humpback whales.
Fin whale swimming past us
The Humpback whales, Owl and Jabiru, napped the whole time we were in the area! Even marine mammals need their rest and what beautiful conditions to do it in!
Humpback whales Owl and Jabiru
Before heading for home we passed by a few harbor seals, a Minke whale in the distance and re-found Geometry and Daffodil now napping as well. What a spectacular way to ring in the change of seasons!
Geometry and Daffodil again

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesday, September 21

You couldn't ask for better ocean conditions to search for whales today. With minimal wind, at times, the ocean looked more like a lake rather than the open ocean. Today we sighted 4 Fin whales, 8 Minke whales, 3 Humpback whales and 2 different pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphins! We started the day with a small group of 10-12 Atlantic white-sided dolphins. These whales were traveling, creating plenty of white-water, as they surfaced for some breaths of air.
Atlantic white-sided dolphin really moving through the water!
After that we bounced from whale to whale. We checked out a Humpback whale before seeing yet another small pod of ~20 Atlantic white-sided dolphins then finding ourselves surrounded by 4 different Fin whales all the while seeing Minke whales pop up here and there.
First Humpback of the day, A-plus
Fin whale #0723 with Appledore Island in the background
A few of the second group of Atlantic-white sided dolphins we saw today
As you can see there was plenty to look at especially in such beautiful ocean conditions!
Humpback whale in such calm seas
The day wrapped up with a quick glimpse of a pair of Humpback whales. Turns out this pair included our first Humpback whale of the day, A-plus, who was now associated with another Humpback moving around together.
Pair of Humpback whales

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday, September 17

Awesome trip today!  Sure the ocean was a little bumpy but the whales were very much worth the trek. We began with a brief sighting of a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. We only saw this whale for a couple of breaths before it dove and we didn’t see it again. Still, it was a great opportunity for those of us who at least saw the blows to be able to witness one animal from a very small population. Humbling.   After waiting nearly 15 minutes, we decided to continue on to the location where more whales of the humpback species were reported. We came to the area where we’ve been seeing whales regularly this season and saw a trio of humpback whales! Victim, her newest calf, and Sword were grouped up and slowly swimming south and taking short dives.  Then, as we awaited them coming back to the surface, the calf started to get a little wiggle. Before we knew it, we were watching breach after breach, with some tail-breaches and other sorts of above-the-surface activity!  Congrats to our regular guests who were treated to seeing breaching for the first time! And to those who had never watched whales before and got this tremendous first experience!  Other humpback whales were in the neighborhood including one who joined the trio.  Fall whale watching is the best!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday, September 16

Want to know what is amazing? Nature. Want to know what is even more amazing? Spending so much quality time with that nature. Today was a great day. Yes we saw whales but more so than that, at times, we found ourselves just sitting tight as whales swam by and around us. Experiencing a moment in a whale's world, watching them meander around, is truly just fantastic. Before we even got to the whales today we stopped to check out an Ocean sunfish.
Ocean sunfish swimming alongside the boat
This fish was just slowly on the move. As we continued to head offshore we saw whales breaching in the distance. Not just one but two! While these whales persisted with this behavior for a bit they ceased this activity by the time we got into the area.
Distant look at a breaching Humpback whale
No worries though, it was still impressive to watch these whales launch themselves clear out of the water. Overall the day included 6 Humpback whales, including two different mother/calf pairs, and a Fin whale. We started with Gunslinger traveling along rarely showing its tail as it was diving.
Gunslinger the Humpback whale
Eventually we moved on to Victim and her calf. These two whales were not moving much at all giving us a great opportunity to get some great looks at this pair.
Victim and her calf
Victim's tail
As we were spending time with this pair of Humpback whales suddenly a spout and body from a Fin whale appeared in the area! This whale ended up circling around us a few times allowing for a phenomenal comparison of sizes between a 'medium'-sized Humpback whale and one of the second largest animals on Earth, a Fin whale. We were able to identify our Fin whale which was first sighted in this area in 2007.
Fin whale #0723
Not only did we have this Fin whale appear out of nowhere but another Humpback whale passed by us too. Jabiru surfaced for only a short while nearby before this whale seemingly disappeared just as easily as it had appeared. Before heading for home we went to investigate a few more exhalations we were keeping track of. Turns out we came across a trio of Humpback whales! And guess who was in the mix? Jabiru had joined up with Ravine and her calf!
The dorsal fins of Ravine, her 2016 calf and Jabiru all at the surface
All three whales were slowly swimming along. On our course home we had one more quick stop as Victim's calf was being a bit active as we were passing through the area. We saw a few tail breaches and lob tails. What a fantastic way to end an already great day with wildlife.
Sometimes all you have to do is take the time to look to see what amazing things you can find in your 'backyard.' The modern world in the background is just the backdrop to this tail-breaching calf.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday, Sept 14

It is starting to feel like autumn whale watching! Sightings are more unpredictable, but not in a bad way at all! We love the surprise of seeing new whales, larger dolphin pods and who knows what else!   This morning we passed by some harbor porpoises before spotting a big pod of curious Atlantic white sided dolphins.  

Then we saw a blow from a humpback whale nearby. This was Jabiru, a familiar favorite of mine. As we waited for Jabiru to reappear, a harbor seal and ocean sunfish came up close to us! We spent some time with the ocean sunfish before catching up with Jabiru. 

Next we found another humpback whale named Fulcrum. She has a serious injury to her dorsal fin, caused by the propeller of a boat. The injury is over 10 years old and she is doing great, producing several calves in the past decade.   

Today was our first sighting of her here near Jeffreys all season. A few minke whales were seen near and far, and then we saw a couple of big splashes in the distance.  A breaching whale! We always hope to see a whale jumping out of the ocean but in reality, it is a rare occurrence.  Today we lucked out! Humpback whale Victim’s calf was very active, jumping, rolling, flipper slapping and tail-breaching!   

Although it took us nearly the entire sighting to confirm Victim's identity, thankfully we have a crew of whale experts who made this possible! 

Then the pair settled down and just hang out alongside us. Absolutely beautiful!  Today was our first sighting of Victim this season as well. Our last sighting of her in our area was last October, when she appeared quite large- apparently pregnant!  What a great surprise!