Friday, August 14, 2015

Molas, Humpbacks, and Sharks!

Under an incredibly beautiful sky, with perfect temperatures and a light breeze, my nephew Sid and I went on a Granite State Whale Watch yesterday morning from Rye Harbor.
Our destination was Jeffrey's Ledge, about 20 miles offshore, beyond the Isles of Shoals. Not long after passing the islands our captain slowed and gently maneuvered the boat to bring us close to a basking mola or ocean sunfish. What a curious fish.
They appear to have only half a body. Females lay more eggs than any other vertebrate in the world -- an average sized mola may have as many as 300 million eggs. Each egg is tiny, but after hatching it grows into the heaviest bony fish in the ocean. The name ocean sunfish comes from its habit of basking on its side at the surface, in part, to allow birds to pick off the very large number of parasites on their body. They keep their mouth open at all times, chasing their favorite food: sea jellies (jellyfish). To our delight we saw four of these wonderfully odd fish yesterday, each about the size of a large dining table.
We never made it to Jeffrey's Ledge as the wildlife watching was better just 14 miles offshore in an area where recreational bluefin tuna anglers were congregated. We spent several hours among the fishing boats watching three different humpback whales surface for air and then dive to feed. All three whales were identified as Highlighter, #0050, and Quill by their dorsal fin and tale patterns by our knowledgeable onboard naturalist Melanie White from the Blue Ocean Society.
After a while we motored north and farther out to search for other whales and sea life. One minke whale surfaced and in our travels we saw four sleek blue sharks up close. The relatively calm ocean with swells of less than two feet enabled us to easily pick out the small dark fins of sharks, sunfish, and whales. We had not expected to see sharks, so an added bonus to a wildlife-rich day.

We watched hundreds of Wilson's storm petrels--a small dark brown seabird with a white rump--skip across the water picking off small invertebrates just below the surface. These petrels are summering here then head south to Antarctica where they breed in November-December. A greater shearwater lifted off from the water as we passed, flying gracefully on its long slender wings just above the swells. Cormorants, black-backed, herring and ringed-billed gulls, common terns, common eiders, and a few harbor seals were sighted as we traveled to and from Rye Harbor.

What a lovely day to be on the ocean.


No comments:

Post a Comment