BAR HARBOR — Whale watch captain Larry Nuesslein got on the intercom system of the Atlanticat Thursday, Sept. 17, to tell passengers that the two sperm whales they had just observed were the first he had seen in his 25 years in the business.
“I’ve been wanting to see one all that time,” he told the Islander Monday. “We got to see them two days in a row.”
Atlanticat was about 35 miles south of Bar Harbor Thursday when they first spotted the whales in 800 feet of water, naturalist Zack Klyver said. Only a handful of sperm whales have been sighted in all the years of whale watching here, he said, and none in recent years.
The two they saw Thursday were about 40 feet long, Klyver said. “Young maturing males, likely around 15-20 years old.”
When the whales dove, they stayed underwater for 10-15 minutes, according to reports. “When they came up, they stayed up for a lot longer than the other whales do,” Nuesslein said.
On Friday, Nuesslein took the boat back to the same area, and they spotted one of the two sperm whales again. They were about 11 miles to the west of that first sighting, Klyver said.
“I tried to think like a sperm whale,” Nuesslein said of his strategy for locating them again. “They like the deep water. They like looking for squid. One of the things about being a whale watch captain is that you have to learn proper manners around the whales. Approaching the sperm whale, I didn’t know what the proper manners were.”
Different whale species react to the presence of a boat differently, he said. “Finbacks are more aloof, don’t care if the boat is there or not there. With the humpback whales, different individuals act differently. They will oftentimes be interested in you, but if they don’t like something you do, they give you a trumpet blow.”
When they found one of the two sperm whales they had seen the day before, it came within 100 feet of the boat, Nuesslein said. They’re unusual-looking, he said, “like a giant floating potato with a tail on it.” The huge head of a sperm whale can takes up about a third of its length. It’s also got wrinkled, bumpy skin, he said.
Researcher Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia heads a team of sperm whale experts, Klyver said. They keep a sperm whale catalog much like the humpback whale catalog maintained by Allied Whale at College of the Atlantic.