As the weeks progressed later into the month of June and with the arrival of summer, we found that wildlife sightings started to become more consistent. During this week the whale watch encountered a number of large whales and specific individuals identified by our onboard naturalists and researchers. The boats were also very fortunate to experience a stretch in very nice weather and sea conditions.
On June 16th, the whale watch headed out to both Petit Manan Island to see the puffins and into Canadian maritimes to find whales and other wildlife. Passengers were treated to a number of puffins and other seabirds when at Petit Manan Island. Dozens of puffins, many razorbills, and black guillemots, and a murre! Common and Arctic terns were both seen and heard as well as many laughing gulls.
|A pair of Atlantic Puffins Sitting in the water.|
|A great close-up look at a puffin. Easily identified by the large beak that is brightly colored during the breeding season.|
|A group or pod of three fin whales coming to the surface! (Photo: Allied Whale)|
|Two fin whale surfacing! (Photo: Allied Whale)|
Seeing this many whales shows the importance of protected areas such as the Grand Manan Banks. The more we observe, study, and learn about these animals the more effective we can be at protecting them and their habitat. It was very exciting to see all the activity in protected Canadian waters!
The trip on June 17th had some interesting sightings as well! Heading out on a clear, calm, sunny day the boat explored other territory along the Schoodic Ridges. But before heading offshore, the first visit was to Petit Manan Island to check out the seabirds! A nice ride over to the island as the boat passed Schoodic Peninsula and spotted numerous harbor porpoise along the way!
Puffins, razorbills, guillemots, Arctic terns, and common terns were seen in the air, water, or sitting on the rocky ledges. Birds flew overhead, around the boat, or back out to sea in search of prey for their newly hatched chicks. Time to time we see terns and puffins with a silvery herring or hake hanging out of its beak. Puffins can fit, on average, about ten fish in their mouth. They have the ability to carry many fish due to the barbs on the roof of their beak.
|Puffins in flight! (Photo credit: StealthVader Photography)|
|Group of razorbills in the water along the shore of Petit Manan. (Photo credit: StealthVader Photography)|
This humpback moved slowly across the surface and approached the boat several times allowing great looks for all onboard. Watching the location of the whale carefully everyone watched the whale surface and then dive below the surface. Taking a photo of the whale's fluke allowed the naturalists and research assistant to identify the whale! It was a female humpback named Isthmus!
|The unique patten on the right side of Isthmus's fluke! (Photo credit: StealthVader Photography)|
|The open blowholes of humpback whale, Isthmus.(Photo credit: StealthVader Photography)|
Eventually, it was time for the boat to head back to Bar Harbor to prepare for the afternoon trip! A great start to a day of whale watching!
The afternoon's voyage went in the direction of Grand Manan Banks. Just a few miles before reaching the Banks, a whale was spotted! It was a humpback whale! As it lifted its tail to take a deep dive the underside was photographed and the whale was identified as Bottleneck. This whale's name is based on the two curved lines on the right side of the fluke.
|Fluke of Bottleneck! Notice the two curved lines on the right side. (Photo: StealthVader Photography)|
|Bottleneck's dorsal fin (Photo: StealthVader Photography)|
Humpbacks are usual named by a specific marking or tail, dorsal fin, or noticeable scar or injury. A characteristic that stands out and makes them easy to identify. Individuals in the Gulf of Maine new to the North Atlantic Catalog, will be named the following spring including calves and adults. Naming whales provides great information and more of a connection with the whales. The first named humpback was Salt. This female humpback has white scarring on her dorsal resembling salt. Over the last 37 years, scientists have been able to piece together her family tree and learn more about genetic connections within the North Atlantic population. Just recently Salt became both a grandmother and great grandmother! Check out the article on her extensive family tree here: http://www.coastalstudies.org/blog/?p=274
Everyone enjoyed nice looks at Bottleneck. The captain also noticed some bait on the fish finder, so Bottleneck was probably a bit busy feeding on prey. After all that is the main reason why they are here in the Gulf of Maine! Along with the whales many pelagic birds were seen as well such as greater and sooty shearwaters and gannets! Can't wait to get out on the water again!
|Greater shearwater! (Photo: Stealthvader Photography)|
|Sub-adult northern gannet! (Photo:Stealthvader Photogrpahy)|
On the afternoon of June 19th, the boat headed out from Bar Harbor toward Grand Manan Banks. After a bit of an adventurous ride, the whale watch arrived to the Banks and came across three fin whales and minke whale while also spotting a dozen or so of harbor porpoise along the way! Seabirds remained abundant as well with quite a few sooty shearwaters and northern fulmars seen on this trip.
Trips on June 20th included sightings of wildlife not frequently seen. With a bright sunny morning to enjoy the whale watch started out with a cruise to Petit Mann Island. The island remains active with nesting birds, including razorbills. These birds started nesting here in recent years even though the island has been maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since the late 1990's. Razorbills are the largest commonly sighted Auk or alcid seen on the island. They have a long, thick, black beak with white, thin horizontal and vertical bands. Just days old, the chick and male parent leave the island under the cover of darkness for the offshore waters.
|A group of razorbills. (Photo: StealthVader Photography)|
|Naturalist Zack educating passengers about the wildlife while |
naturalist Hannah scans for whales. (Photos: StealthVader Photography)
Then, a great deal of activity was noticed at the surface. Lots of splashing and animals jumping out of the water. It was a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins! Though a common toothed whale species in the Gulf of Maine and North Atlantic, we don't see them often so this was treat! These dolphins range from 7-9 feet long and can travel in large pods. They estimated seeing between 100-200 individuals!
They can be quite acrobatic at times jumping several feet out of the water! A number of dolphins approached the boat and seemed to be forging for prey just feet away. Being in a pod has its benefits. It provides protection and the ability to feed on prey. Together they work to corral prey into tighter schools. Toothed whales use echolocation to communicate and frighten prey. All whales essentially see using sound. Also, porpoise and dolphins are two separate groups of toothed whales. Unlike dolphins, porpoise are smaller, have spade-shape teeth, and tend to not be as acrobatically active at the surface.
Another exciting sighting was of the bird kind-a south polar skua! These gull-like birds and relative of the jaeger are a rare sighting in the Atlantic during the summer but have a very large range. They nest on snow absent places in the Antarctic. Since it is winter in the southern hemisphere they will head north to avoid the extreme weather and look for food.
|South Polar skua! (Photo: StealthVader Photography)|
In the afternoon, the whale watch headed out to the same area, but went a little bit further venturing to Mount Desert Rock. Things seemed to quiet down offshore. A few seabirds were sighted, in particular a large number of northern gannets. A couple of jaegers, relative to the skua, was spotted. Jaeger, meaning hunter, is a predatory bird that will harass other birds until they regurgitate their prey, which then the jaeger takes for itself.
Though it was slow offshore for the larger whales, the visit to Mount Desert Rock was the highlight of the trip. Being the most remote lighthouse on the east coast, not many people have the opportunity to see it. Situated about 25 miles offshore, it served as a lighthouse station for over a century. It was eventually turned over to the College of the Atlantic, which is based in Bar Harbor. Since the 1970's it has been a research station for Allied Whale. The lighthouse continues to be a functional lighthouse, with the fog horn going off at repeated intervals 24 hours a day.
|Keepers house and lighthouse tower of Mount Desert Rock Lighthouse Station (Photo: StealthVader Photography)|
|Harbor seals with one large female grey seal (further up on the ledge) |
hauled out at low tide. (Photo: StealthVader Photography)
The next day, June 21st, the whale watch made its way from Petit Manan back to the same area explored the previous day. With the weather shaping up to be beautiful and perfect for whale watching, everyone was eager and excited to get out on the water!
A great visit to Petit Manan this morning. Numerous puffins, razborbills, guillemots, and terns seen in the water and flying overhead. With it being so clear and the water calms, all onboard got wonderful looks at the seabirds and island. Many of the seabirds seen here are the result of of intensive management and conservation efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Friends of Maine Seabird Islands. Researchers have observed greater success in restoring seabird populations on protected islands part of the refuge.
|Petit Manan Island and Lighthouse! (Photo: Allied Whale/BHWW)|
|A group of North Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills sitting in the water off the shore of Petit Manan!|
(Photo: Allied Whale/BHWW)
A fin whale was sighted as the boat traveled between the Bumps and the Ballpark. It was observed traveling fast and taking long dives. Either it was feeding in deep water or just traveling through the area. Fin whales can cover long distances in short periods of time. One study discovered a fin whale had traveled approximately 100 miles in one day. They are also excellent divers, known for reaching depths of 1,000 feet and remaining submerged for over 45 minutes!
|Long back and distinctive dorsal fin of the fin whale! (Photo: Allied Whale/BHWW)|
After spending a time with the fin whale it was time to head back to shore! Passengers enjoyed a wonderful ride back to shore, which features scenic views of Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula, lighthouses, and Acadia National Park!
|A beautiful view of Mount Desert Island from offshore! A wonderful morning to be out! (Photo: Allied Whale/BHWW)|
In the afternoon, the whale watch made its way toward the Grand Manan Banks. The waters off the southwestern portion continued to be very active. The whale watch sighted three to five humpbacks including Patchwork, Picket, and Jawa! Picket was the first whale found while Patchwork and Jawa eventually came closer to its location. Picket surprised everyone when it did a full body breach right in front of the bow!
|Breaching humpback whale! (Photos: Allied Whale/BHWW)|
Breaching is a behavior when the whale launches its body out of the water and is often displayed by humpback whales. However, it is not a behavior we see everyday, so it makes for a memorable experience when the whales do this. Marine scientists speculate that humpbacks breach for several reasons. It could assist in knocking of barnacles off the skin (some whales can carry up to 1,000 pounds of these tiny crustaceans on their skin), provide non-verbal communication with other whales, stun prey, help in digestion, or be a aggressive display.
There were also one to two fin whales sighted in the area. Seabirds were abundant especially the greater shearwaters as hundreds were seen during the trip. Other species included the northern fulmar, northern gannet, and a pomarine jaeger!
|Northern Fulmar! (Photo: StealthVader Photography)|
|Pomarine Jaeger! (Photo: StealthVader Photography)|
Overall, a great day to spend offshore! Nice weather along with successful and exciting sightings!