Whales

WHALES TALES
During the mid-summer months when the fish head out to the deeper and cooler waters far off-shore fishing can become a little slow. Although I’ll never pass up a chance to get the charter some good looks at a whale or dolphins, it’s during these lean times I keep an extra close watch for some marine mammals to spice up the day.
Here in the Gulf of Maine there are a good number of different species, but the most common and likely to be seen are:

1. Humpback whale
2. Finback whale
3. Minke whale
4.Atlantic White Side Dolphin

And less common :
1. Atlantic Right whale
2. Blue whale
3. Orca, or Killer whale

HUMPBACK WHALE
The Humpback , because of his sometimes curious, social nature and acrobatic displays, is a favorite of whale watchers. The adult Humpback reaches lengths of 40-50 feet, and around 30 tons, (females are slightly larger than the males). At birth the calf is 10-12 feet in length and weighs around 2000 pounds. Humpbacks have a life span of 40-50 years and it is thought that this might be a low estimate.this whale is deep black/ gray topside, white on the bottom, and has extremely long white flipper like pectoral fins. The spout is a low and bushy combination of water vapor and stale air expelled from the blowhole located topside just behind the head. Another identifying characteristic is that when humpbacks dive they will 99% of the time lift their tail(flukes) in the air as they go down. An interesting feature of the fluke is that each has it’s own different and unique markings on the bottom, just as we each have different fingerprints. Whale researchers use these markings to keep track of the populations so they can learn about their migration, mating, and social habits. It is also a means of positive identification, as in the case where a picture was taken of a humpback and calf in 1939, then 40 years later in 1979 the same adult whale was again photographed and identified by it’s fluke marking.
The Humpback is a baleen whale, meaning it has no teeth, but rows of filters inside it’s mouth that are used to hold in food while water filters out. The two primary foods of humpbacks are krill(tiny shrimp) and sandeels the whale will swim with it’s mouth open until full of food and water, expel the water and swallow the food. It is interesting to note that when the humpbacks, and other whales as well are here in the Gulf of Maine it is for the sole purpose of eating and gaining as much blubber reserve as possible because while they are south in the winter they will not eat as there is no food for them there. The whales migrate south to warm tropical waters every fall to give birth to their calves. At birth the calf’s have no protective blubber and would die if exposed to the cold north Atlantic ocean in winter.
These whales can put on amazing displays of entertaining behavior that include;
full body breeches (leaping fully out of the water and coming down in a huge splash)
tail breeches( suddenly lunging the tail out of the water and splashing it down)
flipperflaping(laying on their sides and slapping the surface of the water with their flippers)
Spy hopping (the animal actually stands on his tail and pushes his head up out of the water, usually alongside a boat in order to get a look at the open mouth expression of the people onboard.)
Bubble feeding (this is when the animal dives under a school of eels or krill and expels a huge breath of air to trap the tiny fish in the bubble. It then swims up through the cloud with it’s mouth open and filters out the water.)
Bubble chain feeding( sometimes several whales will work together in this method. It involves the whale swimming around a large school of food and surrounding the fish with a chain of bubble clouds trapping the food inside ths chain.)

Finback Whale
The Finback is the second largest whale in the world after the Blue whale. It reaches a length of 45-70 feet, and weighs around 40 ton as a adult. This is a slender sleek animal sometimes refereed to as the greyhounds of the Atlantic because of their great speed, in excess of 30 miles per hour. It is a solitary creature seldom seen in social gatherings, and does not have the playful personality of the humpback, in fact at times they are quite timid and hard to get a good look at. This makes research and identification difficult especially because finbacks seldom if ever raise their tail out of the water when diving. The best times to view a finback is when it is lunge feeding, the animal lunges through schools of sandeels with it’s mouth open. It too is a baleen whale and purges water from it’s mouth the same as a humpback. This whale has another interesting feature, it’s lower jaw is asymmetrically colored both inside and out. The right lower jaw is white while the left is grey/black as is the rest of the animal. While there is no evidence as to the reason for this unique feature it is believed the flash of the white side is for startling bait fish making them vulnerable.
There is little research to age these creatures but as with most large whales they are believed to live long lives.

RIGHT WHALE
This whale is unique in that it feeds exclusively on plankton. It too is a baleen feeder, and feeds by swimming along on the surface with it’s mouth open filtering plankton and other marine vegetation.
Right whales are 10-15 feet, 3000 pounds at birth and grow to 45-55 feet, 40-50 ton as adults. They, like the humpback, lift their tail when diving. Two ways to identify a right whale is the absence of a dorsal fin, and an odd short bushy V shaped blow. This is an extremely endangered species and it is believed there are only several hundred here in the northern oceans. This poor creature was hunted extensively in the distant past and get’s it’s name “Right whale “ because it was considered the best whale to hunt because of it’s slow swimming speed and also that it floated when dead.
It is believed Right whales live up to 60 years of age and longer.

MINKE WHALE
This is the smallest of the baleen whales, adults are 15-25 feet and weigh 5-8 ton. They feed on krill, squid, mackerel and other small fish. This is a very quick and timid animal. In order to photograph it you have to be extremely lucky and be pointing your camera at the right spot when it pops up for a second and then goes back down as quickly as it appeared. There is little research for this creature, however the populations are abundant here in the north. Their life span is unknown.

ATLANTIC WHITE SIDED DOLPHIN
Always a crowd pleaser on the whale watches these dolphins travel in social groups as small as a few and as many as hundreds. At times when not putting on acrobatic displays leaping and rolling around they will swim around the boat on their sides doing a little people watching. Another favorite trick of theirs is to play and surf in the boats wake. These dolphin have teeth and feed on fish such as mackerel and herring. As adults the white side weighs 300-600 pounds and is 5-8 feet in length. It’s lifespan is believed to be in excess of 25 years.

BLUE WHALE
This is the largest mammal to have ever lived on earth!they grow to a length of 70-100 feet and weigh up to 120 ton. A long sleek whale with a huge head, it is blueish/grey in color. It is a baleen whale that feeds on plankton and krill. The blue whale’s heart is the size of a small car, it’s head is so wide 50 humans could stand on it’s tongue, and it’s arteries are large enough for a human baby to crawl through. these giants are believed to live up to 100 years.
For some interesting photographs of blue whales go to http://www.oceanlight.com/htm/blue_whale.html

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