Saturday, July 27, 2019

July 25-26, 2019

Thursday morning, we headed out to Jeffreys Ledge to the area where we left some whales on Wednesday afternoon. As always, things had moved around a bit but we eventually found a number of huge fin whales! The first one was lunging at the surface, catching small mackerel.  Surrounding this feeding fin whale were dozens of shearwaters and bluefin tuna!  It was a crazy feeding frenzy!  From here, we saw more blows in the distance. More fin whales, birds and tuna!  

Great shearwater taking off

Great shearwaters
Fin whale
 On our way home we passed by a minke whale and then found a humpback whale relatively close to shore! To our surprise, this humpback whale, named Zorro, was blowing bubble clouds to corral his prey and charging up through the cloud to catch the mackerel trapped within the cloud. Quite spectacular! If that wasn’t good enough, Zorro then surfaced right next to the boat and even hung out alongside us for several breaths. 
Zorro with the Isles of Shoals in the background

Zorro feeding on mackerel 

Zorro coming in for a closer look at us

Zorro imitating an airplane :)

Even after 25 years of watching whales, I am still amazed by the calmness and curiosity of these huge animals.

Thursday afternoon, we found Zorro again just south of the Isles of Shoals. He was wiggly at first but then settled down and did more bubble feeding!   
Zorro fluking

Zorro rolling on his side, showing his white flipper

Zorro feeding

Venturing offshore, we found at least half dozen fin whales likely more!  Some were in pairs while others were single. Fin whales are the 2nd largest species of whale and they rarely disappoint.  

Fin whale blaze marking
Fin whale

We even had a tiny hummingbird visit us on this trip- likely blown offshore and looking for a dry place to rest.

Friday morning’s trip was an exercise in patience and also conservation. We received a report of a whale just off Hampton Harbor. We went south to investigate. For the past couple of years, we have been seeing juvenile whales close to shore, between Rye, NH and Plum Island, MA so this wasn’t a complete surprise to have a whale just a few miles off the beach. Upon arrival, we found a young humpback whale virtually sleeping! It surfaced, logged (floated) at the surface for 5-10 minutes, breathing occasionally, and then diving for a few minutes before repeating the logging behavior. Logging is a humpback whale’s way of sleeping. They are never completely asleep like we are, but instead rest half of their brain at a time so they are always partially conscious, knowing when their blowholes are above the water to take a breath! Pretty ingenious! Nonetheless, we got great looks as we drifted along with the sleeping whale. This individual had obvious healed scars from a small boat collision in its past. Fortunately, this whale survived.
Unidentified juvenile humpback whale with propeller scars 

We then heard a report of another whale even closer to shore off the Merrimack River. A fin whale was also basically sleeping in amongst all the boat traffic and lobster trap gear. That’s a pretty poor choice in habitat for a whale to take a nap! Boat strikes and entanglements are two of the leading causes of death for whales!  As we left, the fin whale started moving out to the southeast away from all of the mayhem.

Further offshore, we tried looking at a couple of minke whales that were being on the elusive side. Eventually we found a rather friendly one! It came up right next to the boat, displaying its entanglement scars on its flukes! Two thick vertical white lines (scars) ran down the length on each of the flukes, indicative of a prior entanglement. Minke whales are rather susceptible to drowning from entanglements because they are too small to break free from the gear. Luckily for this whale, it persevered!
Minke whale

Just before we made our approach for Rye Harbor, we spotted another minke whale. We were just pointing it out, passing by it when we realized it was “Finke” (finless-minke). This whale has been seen since 2011 when it first lost its fin due to a boat collision. We have been monitoring Finke annually since its first sighting, watching the injury heal over time. We weren’t able to get any photos of Finke since this whale is understandably shy around boats, but great to see that it is back for another year!

Friday afternoon, we heard reports of a whale close to shore just south of the Merrimack River. We decided that it was likely one of the close-to-shore whales we had on our morning trip and instead headed to the southern end of Jeffreys Ledge, just off of the tip of Cape Ann.  We passed some elusive whales on our way and there we found at least 4 if not 5 humpback whales, a minke whale and harbor seal. The pair of whales we spent most of our time with was our friend Pinball and her 8th calf!! She and her calf have been moving around quite a bit this summer so we were excited to see her again!  

Pinball's calf

Pinball and her calf

Pinball's curious calf

The calf checked us out a couple of times while Pinball was taking longer dives. We even saw what appeared to be nursing behavior from the calf!  One of the whales on the outskirts was Satula! Both Pinball and Satula are adoptable through the Blue Ocean Society!  

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