The Right Whale for Whale Watching
Northern Right Whale was named because it was the animal early whalers
considered the right whale for killing. It provided good oil and was easy to
catch because it floated after it was killed. Today the name of the game is
whale watching and the right whale to watch is the Humpback Whale. It is slow
moving, does not seem to mind boats and puts on a good performance of surface
activities. Most birders enjoy natural history in general and you can share
whale watching with your children and other non-birders. Taking one or more
trips on a whale watching boat is one of the best ways to see the birds on
Some of the activities you can observe and photograph
are: tail lifts, flipper slapping, head lifts, breaching, bubble feeding, and
tail slapping. While not all behaviors are observed on every trip, you can
easily take more than one trip. No two trips are ever alike and seldom are they
Whales are mammals and
breath air. When they surface from a dive, they expel the air and water in
their nostrils located on the top of the head. This is the called the blow. At
the beginning of the trip, the naturalist will scan the horizon looking for a
blow which can be seen from a considerable distance.
When you get closer to the whale you will be
able to hear as well as see the blow and if the wind is in the right direction
expect a whiff of fish smelling whale breath. Sometimes the whales make an even
lounder noise when they breath called a trumpet.
When a Humpback
Whale dives, it usually arches its back and starts rolling forward. Get your
camera ready and watch for the small dorsal fin. Humpback whales have small
lumpy dorsal fins.
dorsal fin disappears hold on few seconds and usually the whale will lift its
tail just long enough for one good shot Once a whale dives you can put the
camera down as it won't resurface for a number of minutes and probably will
come up some distance from where it went down.
Individual whales show different patterns
of white and black on the under tail. This is how
researchers identify individuals.
When a whale dives
it makes mighty up and down thrusts with its tail. This causes the water pushed
by the tail to well up to the surface forming slick spots known as whale
footprints. Sometimes a series of footprints marks the path the whale is taking
underwater. You can do this yourself in the swimming pool with your feet, but
your footprints will not last as long as those made by a whale.
Try it with fins. It works even better.
whale pectoral fins or flippers generally have a considerable amount of white
on the underside and can be up to 15 feet long. Sometimes a whale will float on
the surface while repeatedly slapping one of the flippers on the water as this
whale is doing.
Whales are the only ones with long flippers. Notice they
are white on the underside. The general rule for
animals that live in the sea is dark on the top, white
or light on the bottom. Humpback Whales show
different amounts of white on the underside.
Getting close. Stellwagen Bank
and the coast of New England is one of the best
places in the world to observe feeding whales.
Photos by Jon Woolf of NH Audubon.
The long pectoral fins of the
Humpback Whale is a major identification
characteristic. They have a variable amount of
white on the top side.
Page Author: Emmalee Tarry
popular activity for photographers is tail slapping or lobtailing. The whale
lifts its tail out of the water and slaps the water. This behavior is usually
repeated several times and seems to be associated with feeding. Tail slapping
often attracts birds and dolphins.