Whale watching

This morning was sunny and clear, and our twice-postponed whale watching cruise was finally able to operate. The cruise, operated by Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (who jointly operate the Bar Harbor Whale Museum with College of the Atlantic) took us about 30 miles off the coast to an area of upwelling that is frequented by several species of baleen whale, as well as other animals.

We saw two species of whales on this cruise. We spent a lot of time with a single adolescent humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae). Humpbacks show their tail flukes when they go on a deep dive (top). As they arch over, it’s easy to see how they got their common name:

In the image below, you can see that the soft tissue around the blowholes is elevated quite a bit above the rest of the skull. The dorsal fin is sharply hooked, which was made even more prominent by (I think) a lot of attached barnacles.

One interesting note – the tour guide commented that the humpbacks frequently come back to the surface after longer dives with their heads covered with mud. They’re apparently mucking around on the seafloor, engaged in benthic feeding.

Below are some short video clips Brett shot of the humpback diving (I’m still experimenting with different video formats; these clips should run in most video players, including Quicktime and iTunes, as well as on iPhones):

We also saw several (5-10) fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), mostly at a distance but in a few cases right beside the boat. Even at the surface fin whales have a much sleeker profile than humpbacks:

In the next photo, the elevated blowholes are again visible on the left:

Even though fin whales arch their backs quite a bit when they sound (below), they don’t show their flukes like humpbacks. They just slip out of sight. Compare the video clip at the bottom to the humpback video above:

We spent a thrilling four hours on our cruise this morning, and I look forward to additional trips in the future.

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