Sea Beasties

Yesterday morning was the last Puffin Tour out of Boothbay Harbor. The good Captain Tabor and I took a full boat of 151 passengers out to Eastern Egg Rock. It was a beautiful day with glass-like sea conditions and blue skies all around. Fortunately, we did manage to find some lingering puffins around the island. Most of the colony has departed for the open Atlantic Ocean, but there were a handful of individuals still floating about. There was enough activity in the form of flybys and swimmers to satisfy our guests, and my wrap-up narration was met with applause. Pleased with the success of the journey and the agreeable weather, I decided to celebrate by heading out on another Boothbay cruise, this time letting someone else do the interpretation. The afternoon whale watching trip was loading up for departure just as we returned to the docks, so I said my good-byes to the puffin crew and swapped ships.

I love any excuse to head out into open water, and I previously attended a whale watch from this port in July. It was a much grayer, wetter day overall, with many of the expected birds and mammals failing to appear at the feeding grounds. I still had a fantastic time on that voyage, for although we missed out on the whales we did encounter a large Basking Shark that breached several times! I was completely unaware of this behavior in this species until I saw the huge, dark-colored shark burst forth from the sea. I managed to snap a poor-quality picture that shows the giant fish crashing back into the water, with its last splashdown site being picked over by Wilson’s Storm Petrels searching for stirred-up morsels.

Basking Shark and Wilson's Storm Petrels

Basking Shark breaching with Wilson’s Storm Petrels

Although a Basking Shark encounter of that caliber is by itself worth the price of admission, I still received a “standby voucher” to join another trip later in the season. I certainly wasn’t going to pass up such an opportunity, so I set out again aboard the Pink Lady II, hoping to find some of the whales and birds that eluded me the first time. Once outside the bay, we immediately started to see marine activity. We passed by young Northern Gannets, scattered Great Shearwaters (and one Cory’s), some Harbor Seals and Porpoises, and two Minke Whales as the boat headed south. Once we were a few miles offshore the Storm Petrels were, as usual, our constant companions. The captain slowed to idle speed 18 miles out, and there were many fishing vessels visible in all directions. It quickly became apparent that they weren’t the only ones on the hunt in these waters when we saw our first spout…then another…and another. More than half a dozen Fin Whales could be seen with just a quick scan of the horizon. There were also large flocks of Storm Petrels and Great Shearwaters lazing about on the surface, with several individuals quickly flying over to inspect our ship.

Great Shearwaters

Great Shearwaters cruising

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater flyby

A pair of Fins that was swimming side-by-side slowly approached us after a series of dives. They, along with another nearby individual, appeared to be actively feeding, and every few minutes they would surface near the boat for a few breaths. I saw a Fin Whale once before when I was at Cornell’s Shoals Marine Lab, but I’d never observed so many of the animals so close. I also got to see the distinctive light markings on the right side of this species for the first time as they came up alongside us. The bow of the boat was packed with excited guests, many of whom had never seen a whale before. One group of children was eagerly trying to use the “clock system” for pointing things out, shouting seemingly random numbers and gesturing every which way, to the amusement of those nearby. We spent a little less than an hour on the feeding grounds before turning the vessel towards port and heading home. I was more than satisfied with the views I’d had, but a bit exhausted from a full day on the sea. At least I got to kick back and relax after a morning of narration. I chatted with the staff, who are effectively my coworkers, in the pilothouse for the return trip. We laughed and shared stories about tours, tourists, and target critters, pausing to watch plunge diving gannets and point out another Minke to the passengers. We finally docked in the harbor after a three-hour tour and I headed for home base. Two excellent whale watches so far, hopefully I get another day on the water before heading home!

Fin Whale pair

Fin Whale pair

Fin Whale dive

Fin Whale dive

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About timhealz

A recent graduate (Cornell '14) and lifelong explorer cataloging my thoughts and travels.
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One Response to Sea Beasties

  1. Pingback: The Big Blue | Studying Life

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