Editor's Notes
Visionaries: An eye toward the future

New version of ESIP monitoring map available

Gulf Voices
A day on Great Bay: In search of the osprey

Science Insights
Dam removal

Profile: Dale Joachim of MIT’s Project Owl

Visionaries: Protecting the future of the Gulf of Maine

Book Review
Soaring with Fidel

Inside the Gulf of Maine Closure Area

Shipping lanes shifted to protect whales

Visionaries in the Gulf of Maine

Ocean Tracking Network to shed light on undersea life

Ambassador for his species: If a whale could speak

On the trail of invasive species

In the News
- Outside the Gulf
- Sappi Paper to remove dam on Presumpscot River
- MIT builds robotic fin for submersible vehicles
- New Brunswick to restore Petitcodiac River
- New Brunswick, Nova Scotia to jointly study Fundy tides

Ambassador for his species:
If a whale could speak

By Cathy Coletti
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“Do you know you hit a whale?!” shouted my mother from the side of the Atlantic Queen about 20 miles (32 kilometers) offshore in the Gulf of Maine. The upswell of anger ran through this group of about 60 whale watchers like electricity.

It was one of those days you hope will never happen again. Too many circumstances had come together, too many things that are unknowable and unplannable. The seas were calm. The sun was out. Visibility was perfect. The cool ocean air smelled of salt. My mother was meeting my little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters after about a year of trying to get a mutually agreeable date. The three of us were out on Jeffrey’s Ledge in the Gulf of Maine in mid July, seeing whale after whale.

I had been afraid that we might be disappointed and not see anything. At first my little sister, 10, and I kept imagining that we saw whales, “What’s that?” “Over there!” but it would turn out to be just the way the sun hit the water or a buoy. Then she pointed to the front of the boat and yelled, “WHALE!” People rushed forward to see as the boat came to a stop.

From above, our naturalist, Jen Kennedy from the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit, informed us it was a “minke whale.” Our luck held with more minke whale sightings and then a fin whale sighting, an endangered species that is nothing to snuff at: it’s the second-largest animal on earth, second only to the blue whale. At up to 70-feet (21-meters) long, it’s about as big as 13 human adults laid head to feet.

An uncommon sighting
Towards the end of the day on our way back to Rye Harbor, New Hampshire, the Atlantic Queen came to a halt once again. It was a fin whale. The spout rose above the ocean as the whale surfaced to breathe, showing us its shiny black back. We were told that we were only seeing a very small part of the gigantic body. What a great ending to the day, or so we thought.

When a small sport boat came out of the corner of my peripheral vision I thought, “Geez, that guy is getting awfully close to that whale.” The loudspeaker said, “This boater is not obeying whale watch regulations. He’s way too close.” Then he went right over the place where we had last seen the whale surface.

When the whale came up again, bleeding slash marks were clear on the shiny black skin. There was a silence, and then Kennedy’s voice over the loudspeaker, “Never in my 12 years of whale watching experience have I ever seen this happen.”

My little sister said she felt sad. The crowd seemed shocked and then angry. As the Atlantic Queen pulled up alongside of the sport boat to get documentation for the authorities, my mother yelled, “Do you know you hit a whale?” The boat’s operator didn’t respond.

Sharing the waters
What a sobering reminder that we share our ocean. As I sat with the reporter from Fosters Daily Democrat, I told her about how I would like to see this fin whale be an ambassador for his species. That through press coverage and word of mouth, the whale could simply tell us “Slow the heck down out there and watch out, we’re here too!”

It was prime boating season, which also coincides with the movement of fin, humpback, minke and other whale and dolphin species, which come to the Gulf of Maine to feed on schooling fish and krill.

Harming an endangered species of whale is a violation of both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, with fines of up to $50,000, along with imprisonment and seizure of the vessel.

The captain of the Atlantic Queen and Kennedy of the Blue Ocean Society reported the incident to the authorities, and in mid-September, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration investigators found the boat driver in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The driver was charged an $8,500 fine, and had 30 days from the notice of the charge to contest it, work with the attorneys to come up with a different amount, or pay the whole fine.

The whale has not been seen since the strike. Right now no one can be sure of its condition, but Blue Ocean does sometimes observe whales with scars.

Updates on the case and news on the whale’s condition can be found at the Blue Ocean Society.

Cathy Coletti is assistant editor of the Gulf of Maine Times.

Spotlight on fin whales

Fin whales are the second-largest species ever to live on the Earth. They are 60 feet to 70 feet (18 meters to 21 meters) long on average. The largest one measured was a female that was longer than 80 feet or 24 meters. They weigh 40 tons to 50 tons (about the weight of 12 elephants put together). Although they are an endangered species, Blue Ocean Society in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, sees them on about 80 percent of its whale watch trips.

SOURCE: Blue Ocean Society

For additional info about the Gulf of Maine including maps, photos, current research, the NGO database, and to download other educational
publications please visit The Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment.
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