Whales and Pelagic Birds
|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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Grand Manan ferry.