8/31/86 Fissure17 (page #7)

Fissure17 8/31/86
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Next Fissure spread out his flipper skulling a little then lying there like a bird soaring. The flipper glowed a beautiful greenish white beneath the surface.

Humpback whales are called Megaptera novaeangliae in latin which means big winged New Englander. With his wings spread he looked huge and we had to keep reminding ourselves that, being only two years old, he was still a "small" whale.

It had been a 3 hour encounter and we were already late to get home on time. No one wanted to leave including Fissure. But, when he turned away, the captain felt it was safe to put the engine in gear and back slowly away. It was a very animated group on the two hour trip home, comparing remembrances and excitement

8/31/86 Fissure15 (page #6)

Fissure15 8/31/86
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
He let his tail sink languidly until he was back in a spy-hopping position. We could see the rorquals (pleats) of his lower jaw, festooned with barnacles.

That is the captains hand as he climbed to get a better view.

8/31/86 Fissure14 (page #5)

Fissure14 8/31/86
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
In the Gulf of Maine, the ocean is opaque with life... phytoplankton and zoo plankton exist in such quantity that you can rarely see more than 50 or 60 feet underwater.

It was a flat calm day and so we could see much more of Fissure than if it were choppy... a perfect day for such an encounter.

He lay parallel to us for a bit (perhaps scoping us out with one eye), then slowly turned to face us. We were amazed to see him move such a huge body with just gentle gesture of tail and flipper! And being a younster, he was a mere 35-40 feet long, when full grown he would be 50+ feet!

He lay there, white 15' flippers spread like wings, balancing and keeping himself in place. In this picture his blow hole is slightly open as he takes a occasional breath. Baleen whales have two blow holes, while toothed whales (dolphins and orca) have just one.

We just looked at each other in silence for several minutes.

8/31/86 Fissure11 (page #4)

Fissure11 8/31/86
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
He dropped back down into a horizontal position and glided along the full length of the boat, insuring we all got a good look, He was so close we could hear the water gliding off his back with a whisssh. When he exhaled it was explosive; when he inhaled it sounded like whistling in a big hollow tube... wonderful sounds, hard to represent accurately with words but I can still hear them in my head.

In this picture his blowhole (right above the redhead) was clamped firmly shut; he had just inhaled. You can see the fleshy ridge that forms a V around his nostrils and works as a splash guard.

That summer, we called him "Barney" because he carried a "pet" barnacle, the white dot on his back, and we could identify him as soon as we saw it. (His fluke was the true identifier, since barnacles are likely to fall off when Humpbacks migrate to warmer waters).

8/31/86 Fissure03 (page #3)

Fissure03 8/31/86
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
He dove down but we could still see the white of his flippers glowing way beneath the surface. Then we saw him turn so that he was vertical, standing upright, as he rose slowly back to the surface and "spyhopped" very obviously looking us over.

A whales eyes are placed in such a way that they can only see binocularly by looking down, so it is thought that whales spyhop to see objects clearly above the water.

You are looking at his bottom jaw, with barnacles strewn in amongst the rorquals or pleats on his throat. These pleats expand to hold the water while the whale sieves the mouthful of plankton out through its baleen. The green shapes under the water are his huge (15') white flippers.

We were looking as intently at him as he was at us. It was a very quiet, magical moment.

8/31/86 Fissure06 (page #2)

Fissure06 8/31/86
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
Suddenly ...WHOOOOSH... right beside us, so close that I couldn't focus, the fluke of the second whale. The thunderous sound of all 100 people running to that side of the boat must have been very satisfying to this young rambunctious whale.

8/31/86 First Meeting with Fissure (page#1)

8/31/86 First meeting- Fissure, Humpback whale

Both the captain and I were new to whale watching and we fumbled at first. He had worked on fishing boats, I had taught school and been an observer on research vessels but had no experience as naturalist on a boat. It was soon clear that the captain's great boat handling skills, friendships with the local fishermen, and affinity with the whales made him a natural. He seemed to know where they would come up next and how to approach without disturbing them. My teaching skills came in handy, but most of all I was totally intrigued by the nature of whales and couldn't wait to go out for the next adventure. There was so much to see and learn. We were a great team!

By the end of that first summer we had a lot of experience under our belt. We had seen many different marine animals: ocean sunfish, basking sharks, tuna, dolphins,seals, finbacks, minkes, right whales and humpbacks. We had seen all kinds of exciting behaviors... tail lobbing, breaching, flipper slapping. And we had begun to identify several individual humpbacks by taking pictures of the bottom of their fluke (tail) and sending them in to be matched at Allied Whale (they house the catalogue of North Atlantic Humpbacks). We felt we had seen just about everything...

It was a flat calm, sunny late August day and we headed out to the North end of Jeffrey's Ledge on the advise of a fisherman who was out there already. We came upon two humpbacks blowing a few hundred yards apart. One turned out to be Notch, a mature whale with a ragged tail that had been seen by various whale watch boats for the last 6 summers. We shut down to drift with Notch for a while, losing track of the second one.

Fissure #0489 male born 1984 (#1 LINK)

Fissures fluke
Originally uploaded by yeimaya.
During the summers of 1986 and 1987, I worked as naturalist on a whale watch boat in Southern Maine. Most of the time we went out to Jeffrey's ledge which is where we saw Fissure. He was a two year old when we first saw him. We knew he was two because he had been seen as a calf with his mother Veil #0130 in 1984. Allied whale has catalogued over 6000 humpback whales in the North Atlantic!

Over the two summers we encountered this young male six times.Each time we met him an amazing interaction occured. I will tell the stories of these meetings.

Table Of Contents


About Me



Jeffrey's ledge




Copyright Information

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

This license was chosen so that people would use the information to teach others about whales and to learn more about them. If you find the information useful please let me know.


About Me

I am a sea person, a country person, a walk in the woods, stare at the stars person.... my soul dries up on pavement, my heart hurts when trees are cut, animals lose their places to live.

I have raised two fine kids, many cats; I am enriched by the art of my husband and the warmth of friends and family.

After years of slogging my way through school, I learned I could play with the thoughts that intrigued me and so got a masters in early childhood education and then environmental education... and found great joy in teaching first nursery school kids, then angry teenagers watching them became engaged as they slogged through marshes and tide pools .... we found a seal haul out and the rest was history.

Seals and whales have been my focus ever since. The whale blog tells the story of whales I met during my two summers as naturalist on a whale watch boat. My seal blog is still percolating as I try to pull together the much more complex story of 24 years of observations.

Individuality in kids, in whales, in seals, in cats in trees all grab my attention. I have known 50 or more seals and 10 or more whales over the years; each individual has a unique temperament and that uniqueness is what I want to talk about.

The seal study is ongoing.... the seals leave the ledge I observe in the winter but they will be back in April and I will be there too until they leave again in late August. The winter is time to write about them.

If you have questions or comments or would like more information you can contact me at baleenoptera@yahoo.com.


Welcome to Whale Tales. This blog is currently under construction. The pictures and information about the whales will not change, but I will be updating this Introduction, my About Me page, and the Copyright page. The table of contents will be finalized and then I will start posting more entries.

24 years worth of notes, observations and photographs make a very large pile. If I stacked all my notebooks and albums on top of each other it would be over 6' tall. Here they all sit in my office, threatening, like those National Geographic magazines in the attic, to collapse the floor with their weight. I have made many attempts to write a book but end up feeling stilted and isolated... I am not a writer by choice anymore than I am a computer geek or blogger. They are tools.

In that six feet of words and pictures there are stories, stories about seals that I have watched for eight years or more, stories about humpback whales that have captured my heart, stories about how I ended up spending most of my adult life doing this. And they aren't doing any good making my office floor groan... so here goes.

In this whaleblog, I will upload photographs and tell the stories of my encounter with whales during my two summers as naturalist on a whale watch boat. Whales can be identified by the patterns of white and black on the underside of their fluke. There is Fissure, Olympia, Tusk and Talon, humpback whales that we met repeatedly and who seemed to enjoy our encounter as much as we did.

I have set up a table of contents that will help you find the major parts of the story. There will be a link to beginning of each individual whales story and also a link to the beginning of each encounter with that whale... I will not not link to each post.

I hope people will ask me questions and give suggestions to help me clarify what and how I say things. I hope other naturalists who are doing long term studies of an animal species will add their thoughts.

Jane Goodall has been my inspiration and I dedicate this blog to her.