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Northern Gannet

Whales and Pelagic Birds

Humpback Whales
Great Shearwater
Friendship V
Minke Whale
The Gulf of Maine is cold - much colder then the Gulf Stream that flows past the state a hundred miles out to sea. These waters produce an abundance of food -more than just the lobsters for which Maine is famous. Whales, sea ducks, and pelagic species flock to Maine for the feast. Humpback, Finback, and Minke Whales are common in the Gulf of Maine. Most of the world's remaining, endangered Right Whales summer off the coast, particularly near Grand Manan. Sperm, Sei, and Beluga Whales occur, though rarely. Harbor Porpoises and White-sided Dolphins are often seen in large numbers.

Bar Harbor Whale Watch operates the largest whale watch boat in the state. The AtlantiCat and the Friendship V are fast catamarans that cover a lot of ocean in a hurry, yet are big enough to be stable in rough weather. The morning trips skirt the coast of Acadia National Park on the way out to sea, then surge across the bay to Petit Manan Island for a close-up of Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and its breeding colonies of Common, Arctic, and Roseate Terns, before continuing the search for whales in an area called "the Ball Park." Afternoon trips go straight to the whaling grounds. These waters are particularly fruitful for pelagic bird species, such as the Great Shearwater (right).

The Odyssey of Portland has several impressive things going for it. First, it is located in Maine's largest city. Second, its moderate price covers more boat time than most, because it takes longer to reach the best whale-watching seascape. For an enthusiastic birder, time at sea is everything. The Odyssey boasts a nearly 100% sighting record on Jeffrey's ledge and the Sagadahoc Grounds.

Captain Fish's originated whale-watching around Boothbay Harbor and is now in its third generation of family operation. Yet, despite its long history, its vessels are among the most modern and well-equipped. Besides the whale-watching trips, the company provides several other excursions of particular interest to birders, especially the Wednesday trips to Eastern Egg Rock for Atlantic Puffins.

The Harbor Princess ventures forth daily to find the whales. At 100 feet long, 24 feet wide, she can accommodate 149 passengers in comfort. The bottom deck allows passengers to walk 360 degrees around the vessel in order to see the whales. Look for ocean sunfish and 45-foot long Basking Sharks while you're at it.

The Sylvina W. Beal in Eastport is a unique windjammer that sails out to the feeding grounds of Finback and Minke Whales just beyond East Quoddy Lighthouse. In later summer, expect to sail through thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and rafts of seabirds feeding on the same abundance that attracts the whales.
Leach's Storm-petrel
Northern Fulmar
Pelagic Birding

Great and Sooty Shearwaters sometimes dominate the ocean during the second half of summer. Wilson's Storm-petrels can be abundant on some days. Some of the world's biggest colonies of Leach's Storm-petrels (left) are along the Maine coast, too, but their nocturnal habits make them difficult to find. In August, after breeding, they are sometimes seen in daylight from the whale-watch boats, especially off Acadia National Park. Bar Harbor Whale Watch is outstanding for pelagic species during its whale trips. Northern Gannets are frequent sights. Red and Red-necked Phalaropes gather offshore by the thousands later in summer.

A few Northern Fulmars are seen, and their numbers increase late in the season. Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers are regularly seen from whale-watch boats, and Long-tailed Jaegers are spotted in most years. Both species of Skuas are seen on rare occasions. All of the local alcid species are possible, especially in post-breeding dispersal.

Currently, the number of boat tours for pelagic birding in Maine is increasing. Maine Audubon offers the largest tour in autumn. Its annual trip on the The Bar Harbor Whale Watch boats from Bar Harbor attracts birders from all over the world. In 2007, Maine Audubon began organizing additional trips to Matinicus Rock. Check the Event Schedule at www.maineaudubon.org or call 207-781-2330.


Interestingly, Northern Gannets, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Great and Sooty Shearwaters, Razorbills, and Common Murres are often seen from the Grand Manan ferry.