Fissure - Tips for navigating his story.

If you look in the TABLE OF CONTENTS link to the right you will find the beginning of Fissure's story and its sections you can work your way forward from there. Or by going to the October link in the archives, you will find the beginning and can scroll forward from there.

This is how Fissure's fluke looked in 1986

Fissure08 9/18/86

And the picture below is how his fluke looked in 1987

Fissures fluke

The large patterns have remained the same. In 1986 his fluke had an orange tinge to it, probably from small diatoms clinging to his skin. He had gotten rid of them by the next year, but picked up what look like periwinkles. Enough had stayed the same so we knew it was the same whale.

Has Anyone Seen this Whale?

Fissures fluke
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
This was just about my last photograph of Fissure. But a wonderful woman who went on every whale watch boat she could when she wasn't working, wrote that he was seen several times after this sighting. This is what she described:

"Barney (our nickname for Fissure) has been hanging around off Cape Ann for the last 3 weeks, making lots of new fans for himself. He paid Mason (naturalist out of Glouchester?) a visit when they were out on an 18'outboard on Oct.20. Seems he wrapped himself around their boat, stood on his head the works! What a ham. Now perhaps they'll believe the stories I have been telling them about that whale.

I saw him Saturday, Oct. 24 but he was very interested in his new sibling and did not come over to the boat (Fissure's mother, Veil had been seen with her new calf that year).

Saw him again on Nov. 1 and he was for a time with another whale named Wrap, but left to pay us a visit. Did his routine for us! Very cold that day but it sure was worth it."

Most of the whales were down in the southern end of the Gulf of Maine by then. Many were gobbling up their last meal before they headed south to the Caribbean and the calving and mating grounds. It is not certain that a teenager like Fissure would actually go south since he wasn't ready to mate.

As far as I know, he has not been seen since but one can always hope... it is a big ocean. If there are any whale folks reading this and you have seen Fissure since please say so. He has a very special place in my heart.

1987 Official Fissure Fluke Shot

Fissure WN copy
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
This is Fissure's official picture in the catalogue taken in 1987. He even has the same periwinkles (or whatever they are) crawling down the trailing edge of his fluke.

1987 9/12 Fissure Second sighting #4

87 9-12 Fissure37 500
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
As we backed off and headed for home, Fissure was still interacting with the other boat. Since it was such a cold lumpy day, neither boat had many passengers, and possibly some of theirs were inside feeling under the weather.

But Fissure appeared so curious and eager while his audience appeared so restrained almost intimidated. It felt sad leaving him. Of all the whales I met he touched my heart... and still does.

It was the last time I saw him.

1987 9/12 Fissure Second sighting #3

87 9-12 Fissure01 500

Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
I worried that he was sandwiched to closely between boats. But reading through my notes it is clear he had no problems navigating that small space. He went through a whole range of behaviors each one more outrageous than the one before. He did a somersault just below the surface (that's what I say in my notes wish I had pictures or could remember it)!

But I do remember he "stood" on his head, flukes above the water, using his 15 foot flippers to spin slowly around. They glowed green in the depths and were like wings as they made the leisurely gesture that spun him. I was too flabbergasted to take pictures of that, but can still "see" it.

Each time he would come up and look at us intently for a minute before he dove again . It seemed like he was both absorbing our excitement and planning what to do next.

It reminded me of the time he had blown the bubble clouds for us the previous summer.

1987 9/12 Fissure Second sighting #2

87 9-12 Fissure02 500 copy
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Our competitor's boat and ours were quite close together and Fissure came up in the middle, spinning around first one way then the other. We worried that he might feel overwelmed by so much attention. But not at all... he spent several minutes spyhopping and spinning to face us then to face the other boat. He was obviously loving it!

1987 9/12 Fissure Second sighting #1

87 9-12 Fissure 500
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
It was what we call a "lumpy" day. The wind had blown pretty hard the two days previous and there were 3-4 foot swells. People had not enjoyed the ride out and we had to travel for over an hour to get to Jeffrey's Ledge.

Once we got there it was hard work staying with whales even though we knew there were several around: they rarely fluked, the white mist usually was very visible when they exhaled (the "blow" of "thar she blows") was getting knocked down by the wind.

We were just about to give up and go home when.... up popped Fissure in his usual manner, right beside the boat. Our friendly competitor joined us and Fissure settled in to his antics between the two boats.

September: sparrow on boat

86 9-1 sparrow on boat
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
It felt like fall was setting in for humans and whales alike. Even migrating birds would hook a ride for a while as they started their long journey south. We made a good reststop, complete with hamburger buns and crackers, either dropped or shared with our visitors.

Jeffrey's ledge

Jeffrey's ledge

Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Kids had gone back to school, the boat was much less crowded and we had to travel a bit further south down Jeffrey's ledge to find whales. Most likely the humpbacks were getting ready to migrate. They needed to add as much body fat as they could to make the long journey to the Carribean. There they would have their calves, or mate and then make the same trip back to the northern Atlantic without feeding again until they returned!


Measurements are in fathoms (1 fathom= 6 feet) So:

- The * on green is Kennebunkport where our boat was anchored.

- Light blue is as much as 20' deep.

- medium blue as much as 180' deep

- dark blue is as much as 600' deep

If you click on the map it will take you to a larger version that has notes. Run your mouse over the surface of the map and more notes will show up.

1987 8/26 Fissure first sighting #6

87 8-26 Fissure33 web
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
It was a very mellow encounter, not nearly as rambunctious as the previous summer. He seemed content to swim around us or lay close to the surface with his nose (rostrum) almost touch the boat.

Finally it was time to go, and on the way home we looked through the log from 1986... sure enough, our first 1986 encounter with Fissure had also been at the end of August.

1987 8/26 Fissure first sighting #5

87 8-26 Fissure30 web
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
It seemed he was as interested in us as he had been in the mother and calf. We could see them off in the distance, coming up and blowing once in a while. But Fissure stayed close to us. He dove and circled the boat just a few feet below the surface so we could see his whole body. His tail rose and fell leisurely, leaving "footprints" at the surface. His long white flippers, which glowed green through the water, worked as stabilizers, like wings of a gliding gull delicately changing pitch to maintain his course. When he reached the stern of the boat, he used one flipper like an oar to help him turn as he circled the boat.

1987 8/26 Fissure first sighting #4

87 8-26 Fissure29 web
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Suddenly the captain let out a yelp and took the boat out of gear. Fissure came up right next to us with a loud whoooosh of exhaled air. He was so close I couldn't get the camera to focus. It didn't help that I was shaking in surprise!

1987 8-26 Fissure First sighting #3

87 8-26 Fissure14 web
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
The mother and calf "fluked up" making a deep dive and we figured they would be down for a while. It seemed like a good time to leave them for we were even more sensitive about disturbing mothers and calves than adults.

Fissure followed close behind so, assuming the long encounter was over, we started to back away and head for home.

1987 8/26 Fissure first sighting #2

87 8-26 Fissurecalf11 web
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Fissure didn't seem the slightest bit interested in us. It looked like he was enjoying the little calf. In the left side of this picture you can see the right half of his fluke sticking up. He is rolled on his left side with his nose probably quite close to the little calf. Its dorsal is poking out of the water.

If you look really carefully (perhaps click on the link back to flickr), you can see the light green water caused by the white of his flipper and a big flat "foot print" from the upsweep of the mother's tail. I think she is just in front of her calf, but it is hard to tell.

That is one of the frustrations and fascinations of studying a marine animal... the majority of the important behaviors happen under water out of sight!

1987 8/26 Fissure first sighting

87 8-26 Fissure10 web
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
After a long July with no Humpbacks, they finally began filtering into the Jeffrey's Ledge area. A couple this day a couple that until by the end of August we would see several at a time. Many of them were mothers with their calves.

On August 26th we were overwelmed by things to watch. Three or four Minke's and at least three finbacks zooming around popping up unpredictably, Dolphin riding our bow and six humpbacks within view! Two mother and calf pairs among them.

And there was Fissure tagging along with Sargent and her calf. Sargent's dorsal is on the right, her tiny calf on the left. They stayed very close together.

Brief glimpse of Whale Biology

During those many days in July and early August when we went out and saw nothing I would spend a lot of time talking about whale biology and behavior any bits of information I could think of to make the trip less disappointing... so I'll do it here too just to make the story of that summer more authentic ;)

There are two main families of whales, one with teeth (odontocetes) and the other with baleen (mysticetes). They are pretty easy to tell apart.

86 8-5 AWD14

Odontocetes have teeth for grabbing food and a single blowhole or nostril. The largest is the Sperm whale (50feet) but other members of this family include dolphins, pilot whales, narwhals, belugas, orcas etc. They eat fish, squid even other marine mammals.

1982 8-feeding01 500

Mysticetes have baleen for filtering food and have two blowholes. The largest is the Blue whale (100 feet) others are finbacks, humpbacks, minkes, right whales, gray whales etc. They eat some small schooling fish but mostly huge dense concentrations of tiny krill, sand lance or copepods.

Even right whales

2004 9: right whale

Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
This is a recent picture but in July of 1987, we saw a right whale mother and her calf two times, once at the beginning of July and once in the middle of July.

Right whales are extremely endangered so this was a great honor and we were even more careful not to approach, or disturb her. We were impressed by how differently she moved ... she and her calf seemed so ponderous compared to the speedy finbacks but also to the slower humpbacks. These are very hefty whales and they feed exclusively on tiny krill and copepods.

1987 7/11 Minke Whale

Minke Whale
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Or we would see a Minke whale... the smaller cousin of the Finback. Minkes are 30-35 feet while Finbacks are 70-80 feet. One way to tell a minke from a finback: when a Minke comes to the surface, you can see the blowhole and dorsal fin at the same time. When a finback blows a lot of sleek muscular back slides by before the dorsal shows itself.

We ended up calling them "stinky Minkes" because the were so frustrating to watch. Someone might spot one but by the time we got the boat turned around and everybodies attention... the were gone! That was our problem, they were going about their lives just as they were supposed to.

1987 7/11 Atlantic Whitesided Dolphin

86 7-11 AWD05

Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
We had gotten off to such an exciting start seeing these female humpacks for three days in a row that we were ready for a great summer.

It rained for a week straight, and when we finally could go out again... not a humpback to be seen!

Somedays we would go out and there was NOTHING... I gave a lot of lectures about what a humpback/finback would look and act like if we only saw one. Most of the people on the boat were truely philosophical about it, others expected a Disney experience and got pretty frustrated. Those extraordinary whale encounters come with either huge amounts of luck or perserverance.

Now and then we saw some dolphins....

6/19/87 Cone 2

The seas were a little rough that day, but that often inspires whale to "taillob", slap their flippers on the water or even breach. When we arrived one of the two lay on its back and whapped first one then the other flipper hard on the water.

Sometimes seasickness is the price you pay for the most interesting behavior!

1987 6-19 Cone3 copy 1987 6-19 cone 2
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.

6/19/87 Cone

1987 6-19 cone
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Here is Cone's fluke again, very white.

Now this is a photo matchers dream shot if I do say so myself. I sent this picture to Allied Whale where someone "took it through" the catalogue (of 6,000 individual fluke shots!), trying to find a match.

They found Cone very quickly and were able to tell me who she was and a little about her history. That is how I found out the identity of the whales I have been talking about.

6/19/87 Derecha with Cone

1987 6-19 Derecha with Cone

Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Ahhh Derecha for sure! Notice how different their flukes are. Derecha's is very dark and Cone's is very white.

Humpback whales are very blubbery compared to the stream-lined Finback whale and so when they want to make a deep dive they have to bring up their tails to counteract their bouyancy. A Finback would just slide down under the surface and be gone.

6/19/87 Cone + Derecha

1987 6-19 Cone + Derecha
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Cone's fluke is on the left. Derecha is just about to dive too..... get ready!

6/19/87 Derecha with Cone again

Even though it was pretty choppy, we went out again the next day and came upon Derecha and Cone in just about the same place we had left them, but Nurse was not with them this time.

Derecha's dorsal is closest, Cone's is tucked in close behind, just barely visible. The two females dove and came up in unison remaining so close their flippers must have brushed. It seemed really companionable.

The blue boat in the background is the deep sea fishing boat that belonged to our boss. He had gotten out to Jeffrey's Ledge before us and helped us find these two.

There is a tiny brown bird in the lower right hand side of the picture, it is a wilson's storm petrel.

6/18/87 Cone, Nurse Derecha

1987 6-18 3 whales copy

Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Cone tipped her tail at us, rolling slightly to her left so a bit of her fluke rose out of the water. After drifting with them for about 10 minutes, they humped their backs and all slid under in unison.

Each trip on the boat had its own quality, this one was very quiet and peaceful... no one spoke much, everybody seemed to be soaking in languidness of the three whales.

HELPFUL HINT: If you click on the photograph it will take you to a larger size posted on Flickr. There are often some notes of explaination on the pictures in Flickr.

6/18/ 1987 Nurse, Cone, Derecha

1987 6-18 3whales copy

Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Two days later we met Nurse again. This time she was with two different adult females, Cone and Derecha. I suspect these three were in between calves, perhaps pregnant and taking the summer off from calf rearing.

When we came upon them they were logging at the surface, lying quietly close together blowing now and then. Whales are often seen resting at the surface.

As we approached Cone (the closest whale with the white dorsal)"wheeze blew" as if to say... that's close enough. We kept our distance and drifted along with them for a while.

6/16/1987 Nurse #0152

1987 6-16 Nurse #0152 copy
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
This is Nurse again "fluking up" to do a deep dive. Romantic as this photo may be, water dripping off her fluke and all, it is practically useless to a person trying to match it with pictures in the catalogue.... you would have to crane your head way over to see underneath.... hahaha. If you ever go on a whale watch and see a whale "fluking" wait a second longer until it's tail comes up a bit more.

I know this is Nurse because she showed her tail a few seconds later.

BEGINNING OF THE 1987 SEASON: 6/16/1987 Nurse and FiveJ

1987 6-16 nurse-5j copy

Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
We were ready by the time the 1987 season rolled around! ... but the weather was not. We made one trip in May and saw Dolphins and a Minke whale, but it was a teaser; it blew and rained so hard we couldn't go again for another two weeks.

Finally on June 16th it cleared, the seas were still a little "lumpy" but we were eager to go. And we were lucky to encounter two humpback whales soon after we got to Jeffrey's Ledge. For the hour we were with them, they travelled together. They dove and came up in sync always side-by-side.

When I got home I was able to find them in the catalogue. They were two adult females: one Nurse who was first seen in 1979 and the other FiveJ first seen in 1983. Both had had calves, (as a matter of fact I had seen FiveJ with her calf the year before). This must have been a year off for them. It was interesting seeing them together.

We Meet Fissure Again in 1987!

Before I describe our 1987 meetings with Fissure let me explain how we knew it was the same whale. Humpback whales are identified by the patterns on the underside of their flukes. Whenever a person gets a good picture, whether it be scientist, fisherman, whale watch boat crew, or tourist they can send it to Allied Whale. All of these photographs have been collected in a catalogue and when a new one comes in, some hardy soul takes it through that catalogue to see if they can find a match. If no match is found the photo is added to the catalogue as a new whale. The catalogue was started in the late 1970's and now has 6,000 individual whales identified!

This is a photograph of Fissure in the catalogue:

Fissure WN copy

This is the photo I took of him in 1987:

Fissures fluke

I am not sure how it was determined Fissure was a male. Since he was such a "friendly whale" I can imagine him rolling around enough that someone was able to see his genitals. There is no other easy way to tell the difference between males and females. When full grown the females may be slightly larger than the males but that is about it.

Fissure was first spotted in 1984 as a young calf with his mother, Veil. So those two years we spent time with him he was 2 and 3 years old.

Giving thanks to Dolphins

86 8-5 AWD14
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
This is an Atlantic whitesided dolphin, not the same species as the ones who rescued the swimmers in New Zealand (probably common dolphins). But it is a close relative and I wanted to show my appreciation as best I could.

I think dolphins do this more often than we know....A sailor friend of mine heard of a man who fell overboard while at the helm... his friends searched desparately for him when they found he was missing. A group of dolphins came to the boat and acted very insistent, not the usual gleeful bowriding ... they finally decided to follow the dolphins to their friend .... never never would have found him on their own!!

9/18/86 going home end 1986 (page #16)

on the way home
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
People were quiet, some sleeping, some chatting about what they had seen. One woman had caught my attention while we were with Fissure. She was not in a group and kept to herself, watching intently and quietly while everybody else was bubbling with excitement.

I was both worried and curious about her response so I sat with her on the ride home and heard her story. A couple of years before, a humpback had beached on Cape Cod. It was still struggling to breath and people came from all around, at first just to see such a huge creature washed ashore.

She described how people began to empathize and were at a loss what to do. They got buckets and hauled water from the ocean, they soaked their beach towels to protect the whale's sensitive skin and keep it cool. Its struggle to breath became more intense, its lungs and internal organs slowly crushed by its own weight. People sang and talked to it, staying with it late into the night. It finally died and they all felt sad and helpless.

Our encounter with Fissure was a gift. She was soaking in all his energy and aliveness.

9/18/86 Fissure34 (page #15)

86 9-18 Fissure34
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
We had stayed way past the time we were usually scheduled to leave and so when Fissure sank slowly and submerged we carefully backed away and head for home.... some people kept watch off the stern and could see him "blowing" now and then in the distance.

9/18/86 Fissure36 (page #14)

86 9-18 Fissure36
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
A whales eyes are placed in such a way that they can only see binocularly if they look down and a bit forward. It is thought that is why whales spy hop if they are curious about something above the surface of the water.

Fissure spent a LONG time like this, turning slightly one way and then the other. We were all reaching out to him, waving, shouting ... you know.... all the weird things humans do when we get excited. He must have found us quite amusing..... we were the whale watchers being watched. It was an interesting sensation.

A bit of poetic liscense was used in the sequencing but all these pictures were taken on the same day... "never let the facts get in the way of a good story"

9/18/86 Fissure33 (page #13)

86 9-18 Fissure33
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Then he turned the other way.... and showed us his lower jaw with its rorquals .... These are pleats that allow his throat to expand so he can take in the huge quantity of water needed to filter out the tiny copepods and krill that he feeds on. Fissure also carries a small population of barnacles under his "chin"; a place they gather since it has the least turbulence when he swims.

9/18/86 Fissure28 (page #12)

86 9-18 Fissure28
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Up Fissure popped again next to his dissipating bubble.

Spinning around like a fashion model, he first showed us his upper jaw with the beautifully regular stove bolts and shiny skin.....

9/18/86 Fissure25 (page #11)

86 9-18 Fissure25
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
In all my years blowing bubbles in the bath tub, I have never been able to achieve anything like this! It remained a coherant mass about six feet across as it rose leisurely to the surface and then errupted, hissing as it dispersed.

It is thought that whales use what scientists call "bubble clouding" to confuse the small schooling fish that Humpbacks feed on. The fish clump and flee the bubble, forming a delectible mouthful for the whale to scoop up. In the Pacific, humpback whales are known for making bubble nets, a ring of small bubbles that look like a cyclone as they rise to the surface. Atlantic humpbacks blow these clouds. It would be fascinating if the Atlantic and Pacific groups learned the others techniques.

9/18/86 Fissure24 (page #10)

86 9-18 Fissure24
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
He dove under the boat again and we could see him going deeper and deeper until he was out of sight. Everyone ran to the other side.... it must have created a satisfying rumble to Fissure underneath us. Up came another bubble, pure white and tightly formed with little frothy bits softening the edges. As it got closer to the surface, it took on a wonderful green.

9/18/86 Fissure23 (page #9)

86 9-18 Fissure23
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Then he flopped slowly onto his side. His big mouth looked like he was smiling at us.... I wouldn't be surprised since he was definitely hamming it up for our benefit and was getting an uproarious response!

His upper jaw is closest to us and his eye would be just about where the swirl of water is.. right near where his mouth ends.

9/18/86 Fissure22 (page #8)

86 9-18 Fissure22
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
He wagged his big head back and forth ... a big leisurely gesture that made the water slosh around him.

9/18/86 Fissure21 (page #7)

86 9-18 Fissure21
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
We could see Fissure's dark shape following close behind and he popped up right next to it.

9/18/86 Fissure20 (page #6)

86 9-18 Fissure20

Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
People began staring down into the water, eyes wide... you could see a huge white blob rising slowly from the darkness, getting bigger and bigger until it broke the surface with a loud bluuub sound.

9/18/86 Fissure36 (page #5)

86 9-18 Fissure36
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
He looked us over:"spyhopping", as if to make sure he had our undivided attention and say "watch this".

He dove ... we could see his dark shape and the brilliant white of his flippers as he passed under us and disappeared into depths beyond visibility.......

9/18/86 Fissure13 (page #4)

Fissure13 9/18/86
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Suddenly there was Fissure sliding right alongside the boat. He was so close that we could see the whale lice on his back... those tiny red/orange things just in front of his dorsal.

Everyone ran pounding over to that side. Since it was mid-September there was plenty of room at the rail, but unfortunately kids were in school and there were very few to see this.

I am not sure how he got the scar on his dorsal, but we used it that summer to make the initial identification and then confirmed it when he fluked and showed his tail. If you look at the last two photos, you can see the difference between the pattern on his tail and on Olympias.

9/18/86 Fissure08 (page #3)

Fissure08 9/18/86

Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Fissure brought up his tail for a deep dive and we figured he was following her (you can barely see the lump of Olympia's dorsal in front and right of Fissure's fluke). The captain started up the engines and we headed over towards another whale we could see blowing in the distance....

9/18/86 Fissure with Olympia (page #2)

Olympia09 9/18/86
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
We drifted with Olympia and Fissure for about 20 minutes and things were pretty quiet. The two whales would dive for 7 or 8 minutes, then come up and blow a few times and dive again. We suspected they were feeding, perhaps cooperatively since the stayed near each other and come up at the same time.

Suddenly Olympia slapped her tail on the surface of the water with an explosive whack! It was a total surprise and all we could figure was she was alerting Fissure (or us?) that she had had enough and was heading off to feed.

9/18/86 Fissure with Olympia (page #1)

Fis-Olympia 9/18/86
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Olympia was a well know matriarch, who had been seen since 1979. Between 1983 and 1996 Olympia had 5 calves.

Two of those (Anchor born 1983 and Cascade born 1987) had calves of their own making Olympia a grandmother! Anchor's calf was born in 1990 (when she was 7), and Cascade's was born in 1996 (when she was 9).

There was no evidence that Fissure was related to Olympia in anyway, they just seemed to be enjoying each others company, diving in sync for over an hour. When she made a deep dive we suspected she was going to leave us.