Beyond the BackyardMaine Trip - July 2013

Whale-Watching in Maine

Ever since my six-grade class did a study of marine biology with a video series called The Voyage of the Mimi, I’ve been interested in whales.  The Mimi focused specifically on humpback whales, some of the largest whales in the ocean.  So when Rich and I planned our vacation to Maine, I scheduled a whale-watching adventure.  It was through the Bar Harbor Whale Watch company.  A huge boat takes you and several hundred people out into the Gulf of Maine in search of whales.  This adventure was very, very different than my puffin trip, which was geared towards nature-lovers and photographers.  The whale trip was nothing but tourists, with lots and lots of kids under the age of five!  But it was really cool to see whales.

Fin Whale
Fin Whale

The company takes tourists out whale-watching several times a day, so they know where they have recently seen whales.  So it doesn’t take long for them to start showing you whales after you get far enough off shore.  They are pretty fair about turning the boat so that people on all sides can see.  The first whales we saw were Fin whales, which are the second largest whales in the world.  The only bigger whales are the Blue whales.  These Fin whales were feeding not too far from the boat, so we got good looks at their fins as they came up to breathe.

Breath of Air
Breath of Air

The first glimpse you get of the whale is the big spurt of water that shoots in the air as he comes up to breathe.  You can also hear him as he sucks in air.  If you are close enough, you can smell him.  Then the whale arches his back and goes back under.  You can tell by the angle of his arch whether he’s doing a shallow feeding dive or a deeper dive.

These whales are baleen whales, who eat by straining plankton through their long stringy baleen.  The baleen is made of a substance like our finger nails.  The whale watch company had some baleen on board that they passed around.

I was excited to see whales at all, but I really wanted to see Humpback whales.  So I was quite happy when we spotted two Humpbacks feeding not too far from the Fin whales.  We weren’t lucky enough to see breaching behavior, but I did photograph a few tail shots as the Humpbacks went down for deep dives.  The patterns on the tails help scientists to identify the whales; the two we saw were named Tritan and Whisper.  Tritan is especially easy to identify as he has many scars on his tail.

Humpback Whale Tail
Humpback Whale Tail

Where there are whales there are seabirds, who wait for the whales to bring fish to the surface of the water.  I got to see several pelagic species of birds on my trip, including Greater Shearwater and Northern Gannet.  Both were lifers for me.

Greater Shearwater
Greater Shearwater
Northern Gannet
Northern Gannet

I was surprised by the number of seals that we found swimming around the boat.  They came pretty close.  They were so cute to photograph!

Seal
Seal

It was fun to see the whales, and you should have seen the grin on my face after I saw the first Humpback tail!  The photo ops were not exactly what I was hoping for, though.  My friend Debbie tells me that the best place to see whales is Alaska.  Maybe that’s the next vacation destination!!

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