Rare blue, sperm whales and dolphin pod sighted off MDI


One of a large pod of bottlenose dolphins spotted Tuesday on a Bar Harbor Whale Watch trip swims close to check out the visiting humans.

BAR HARBOR — A sperm whale, a blue whale, and a large pod of bottlenose dolphins made for a trifecta of marine life sightings here this week.

All three sightings happened in a deep water area about 30 miles southeast of Bar Harbor, known to whale watchers at the East Bumps.

Last Thursday, Southwest Harbor tuna fisherman John Stanley reported the first blue whale sighting from Mount Desert Island in the last 30 years.

“He found a group of finback whales and in among them, feeding, was a whale that he said was bigger, lighter color, and an odd shaped spout,” said Bar Harbor Whale Watch naturalist Zack Klyver.

Blue whales are the largest animals on Earth. “They’re more often found in the St. Lawrence and around Iceland,” Klyver said, “but occasionally they wander into the Gulf of Maine.” He hopes whale specialists in Canada or Iceland will be able to identify this individual whale once they see photos.

A whale watch trip Friday had a rare sighting of a sperm whale. “As far as I know, this is only the second time that a sperm whale has been seen” from a regular whale watch trip, Klyver said. Three years ago, a special extended trip with Maine Audubon recorded the most recent sighting of the species here. Before that, no U.S. sightings had been reported since 1998.

Despite having been the primary target of the whaling industry in the nineteenth century, Klyver said, sperm whales are still relatively abundant. “Estimates are that over a million sperm whales were killed in whaling days,” he said, “but there are a million alive today.”

The sperm whale sighting came when the whale watch boat was in about 800 feet of water. “We saw the blow in the distance and realized it was characteristic of a sperm whale, low and angled,” Klyver said.

The sperm whale’s characteristic spout is a result of the animal’s head case that holds the spermaceti oil. The whale uses the oil for buoyancy and also to use sound to determine its location, much like our sonar systems, Klyver said.

Rounding out the banner week for the whale watch, a trip Tuesday encountered a pod of pilot whales and about 100 bottlenose dolphins.

Different from the harbor porpoises often spotted in Frenchman Bay and the Great Harbor, and inshore bottlenose living around Cape Cod and to the south, these bottlenose are identifiable because they’re gray on top and white below, Klyver said.

“This was one of the only sightings we’ve ever had of a big pod of bottlenose dolphins. A couple of years ago, a big group like this was seen at Mount Desert Rock. These guys are very friendly.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.