Whale watching off Maine

"We are expecting a six foot swell today and you may want to discuss coming out with members of your family", said the skipper as we sat aboard the catamaran in Bar Harbour wondering if the second bowl of clam chowder had been such a good idea after all.

What he didn't add was that the day before forty whale watchers managed to see a total of zero whales in spite of some rather heavy (human) 'chumming'.

Anyhow, seasoned seafaring advice resolutely ignored we pushed our way out of the harbour picking our way through some rather lovely Maine windjammers. Franklin's gull and laughing gull flew overhead and a couple of guillemot sat on the water with a double-crested cormorant and a great northern diver (murres and loons to our American friends). In the distance I picked out an adult bald eagle sat on a lighthouse (it doesn't get much more New England than that!).

Twenty minutes out we spotted our first mammals, a pod of 20 harbour porpoise cutting through the waves and as we picked up speed and headed for open water there were more and more birds keeping us company, mainly great shearwater with a few puffin, razorbill and the odd Wilson's storm petrel.

In the distance a large flock of gannet were diving for food which in open water means only one thing, that fish are being driven to the surface by predators. Sure enough we soon saw our first white-sided dolphin. These medium sized dolphins can often put on a good show being so fast and prone to leaping. We drew to a stop and watched them fishing and jumping all around the boat. An eight foot blue shark also joined in the hunt cruising along the surface of the now mirror calm sea.

We later saw the same scenario created by blue-fin tuna driving fish to the surface.

White-sided dolphin

White-sided dolphin

White-sided dolphin

White-sided dolphin

White-sided dolphin

White-sided dolphin

White-sided dolphin

White-sided dolphin

White-sided dolphin (adult female with calf)

White-sided dolphin (adult female with calf)

A couple of trawlers passed of the bow and with them were more gulls and several skuas. Pomarine skua with their long spoon tails and a couple of arctic skua were fairly easy to pick out but the bird of the day then drifted above the boat. A huge south polar skua. The local bird guide on board nailed it (from great and pomarine skua) with it's un-barred, greyish plumage. A great bird to find although they can crop up almost anywhere given their huge range.

Then finally someone spotted a plume in the distance and we headed off to find no sign of the (now diving) whale. We waited five minutes and were finally reqarded when a fifty foot long humpback whale surfaced 100m off the port side. We watched it for about half an hour but it declined to breach being more interested in diving for food.

Humpback whale 'fluke'

Humpback whale 'fluke'

The same humpback nicely showing it's tail pattern

The same humpback nicely showing it's tail pattern

Whilst watching the humpback we almost missed an even larger whale that paid a close visit off the stern, a sixty foot long finback whale which coasted past us lazily.

All in all it was a good day out even though the sightings were rather few as we are nearing the end of the peak season.

FULL LIST

CETACEA (4)

1 Humpback whale

1 Finback whale

20 Harbour porpoise

250 White-sided dolphin

BIRDS (22)

50 Common eider

1 Northern diver

2 Northern fulmar

300 Great shearwater

3 Wilson's storm petrel

300 Northern gannet

1 Double-crested cormorant

1 Bald eagle

1 South polar skua

8 Pomarine skua

2 Arctic skua

200 Laughing gull

200 Franklin's gull

20 Ring-billed gull

20 Herring gull

2 Guillemot

20 Razorbill

2 Atlantic puffin

Feral pigeon, mourning dove, house sparrow, american crow

OTHERS

1 Blue shark