A bottlenose dolphin breaches the water, much to the surprise of guests on a recent whale watch trip from Bar Harbor. The dolphins, a rare sight in the Gulf of Maine, are typically found at least 10 to 20 miles offshore. PHOTO COURTESY OF BARRY GUTRAD

Underwater visitors make a splash

By Kiki Grace 

The tail of a sperm whale.

BAR HARBOR — In the height of whale watching season, sperm whales and bottlenose dolphins were spotted Aug. 3 southeast of Mount Desert Island, surprising marine experts with their presence in the Gulf of Maine.  

Julie Taylor, lead naturalist for Bar Harbor Whale Watch company, said that the Friendship V, a 1996 tri-deck, highspeed, jet-powered catamaran, was in “the right place at the right time.” In addition to the whales and dolphins, those on the tour that day also spotted puffins, ocean sunfish and humpback whales as they traversed through the Gulf of Maine and Atlantic Ocean. 

Late-afternoon sun and slight overcast conditions made for near-perfect visibility. One watcher spotted a fountain of water that erupted into the sky. The crew assumed it was the more common humpback species, said Taylor, but learned that wasn’t the case when the boat traveled closer to the whale.  

The 45-degree angle of the water from the blow hole, the location of the blow hole on the head and the wrinkly skin all pointed to a sperm whale. The crew soon spotted two more sperm whales in the pod. Not only are these whales rarely ever seen during a July to September season, said Taylor, they are almost never spotted in groups larger than two. The boat navigated near the whales timidly, hyper aware of the unpredictable ways the species roam.  

Research assistants said that one sperm whale was spotted last season, recognizable by its unique features, such as the half-moon cut on the trailing edge of its tail.  

After the discovery, the vessel carried sightseers a few miles farther east, where humpback whales were spotted resting. Amidst the sleeping pod was a group of energetic dolphins swimming close to the boat and jumping for the crowd. 

On the return trip, Taylor said she jumped up in excitement when she realized that the sperm whales were still in the same place. This time, the sperm whales swam at the surface for an extended period of time, defying all expectations of their known behavior patterns. The whales dove into the water, showering the ocean with their splash and providing the watchers with an incredible view of the creatures. Taylor describes this moment as “the cherry on top.”  

Videos of the day can be viewed on the Instagram account, barharborwhales.  

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