Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Week Downeast, Day 2

The weather was perfect to go whale watching in Passamaquoddy Bay today, and we don't let perfect days go unused here in Maine.  So it was out on the Ada C. Lore for us, with some sun screen, our binocs, and a camera.  
A little distraction before getting on the boat -- incredible sea urchins and sea stars on the breakwater.  Well worth taking a look at!  (We also saw what I think were salps, but couldn't get a photo.)  It's always distressing to see how many people walk right by treasures like this, in their hurry to get the best seat on a whale watch boat.  Rant over.
Ada C Lore is a big ol' girl!
And pretty.  One of the cool things about this whale watch was just enjoying the boat; an old oyster dredging boat from the Chesapeake.  Her restoration is really impressive and must have been a labor of love.
There wasn't much wind, and it's awfully hard to maneuver around whales under sail anyways; so they just raised one sail -- for looks.
And it looked great!
We "sailed" out along the western shore of Campobello Island in Head Harbor Passage, until we reached Head Harbor Light (AKA East Quoddy Head).  After a very quick foray into the Bay of Fundy, where the temperature dropped a good ten degrees and the wind picked right up.  It was a valuable lesson in oceanography! 
Passamaquoddy Bay is extraordinary for many reasons.  The cold, productive water is forced through narrow passages, resulting in a hefty biomass of baitfish (herring, to be exact).  Big predators, like this minke whale, cruise along between the islands, munching down fish by the ton.  This guy was working only a frontal boundary, where prey are often concentrated.
Whale footprints!  These are formed by the upstroke of the whale's flukes.  You can tell where a whale is if you can see these.
Harbor porpoises, like this mom and calf, were EVERYWHERE.  At one point there were a good dozen of these little guys (less than 100 pounds) charging around, driving fish up to the surface; where birds were picking them off in a noisy orgy of feeding.  Then a minke whale came into the picture, lunge feeding in a National Geographic quality display of agility.

This photo is for Shana, who says Damon needs to take more photos of me.
An absolute highlight of the trip wasn't an animal, or even a plant -- it was the Old Sow (who some would say is a living and breathing thing). The Old Sow is the second largest whirlpool in the world, and the largest in this hemisphere.  As water pours into Passamaquoddy Bay (where tides exceed twenty feet), they hit an underwater ledge here, forcing water up and over the ledge in a confused, tumbling mess.  If you love the ocean, this is one place you must go to.  We could see the water "humping" up when we were over the ledge, and running "downhill" on either side.  Dozens of angry whirlpools formed around us, as we moved backwards and sideways despite the fact that the engines were pushing us forwards.  Even her "piglets" were impressive.  This is something amusement parks might try to replicate, but their efforts would be wasted.  It was an amazing finale to an excellent day on the water.

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