Maine Whale Watching Trip

I spent the weekend in Portland, Maine to try, yet again, to look for Atlantic White-sided Dolphins. This is a species I had look for – and failed to – see on at least 7 trips in Scotland, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Massachusetts.

Last week I called a bunch of operators up and down the north east coast. They’d seen dolphins once or twice the week before from boats coming out of Rye Harbor, New Hampshire and Bangor, Maine. North of Bar Harbor no one seemed to know much about them other than Tom Goodwin from Ocean Explorations in Tiverton Nova Scotia (I used Tom to see Right Whales in 2010 and he knows his stuff). He was seeing them often and if I hadn’t have already bought my air ticket to Portland Maine I think I would have flown to Halifax Nova Scotia instead to go out with Tom, as that might be the best bet of seeing this species.

But I had bought my ticket and it was too long a drive from Portland to Tiverton. And besides Bar Harbor Whale Watch told me they had seen the dolphins the day before I was travelling and that they were present in about 1 in 3 trips (perhaps more this time of year). The biggest problem was the weather, with a bad forecast for Saturday.

Sure enough the Saturday trip was cancelled (as were trips out of Bangor and probably elsewhere). So I took a look through a foggy Acadia National Park and set some traps on the edge of town. I caught a couple of White-footed Mice and a Meadow Vole, but none of the Southern Red-backed Voles I was looking for. The only mammals I saw in the park were some Grey Squirrels and Harbor Seals.

The weather on Sunday was much better and the trip left at 11 am and headed 25 miles out to the Mount Desert Rock Lighthouse, where the whales usually gather. Plenty of Harbor Porpoises on the way, and close to the lighthouse we saw a Minke and then a Fin Whale. I spotted some dolphins about a mile away and the Captain went over for a look. They were, as I’d hoped, a big pod of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins, my 50th species of cetacean. Beautiful things and quite acrobatic, at least until the boat got closer.

Lagenorhynchus acutus
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin

We stayed with them for 20 minutes before returning to look at the Fin Whale, which we followed for an hour or so. The dolphins remained where we left them though sadly we didn’t return for another look.

Lagenorhynchus acutus 2
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin

There were also plenty of Grey and Harbor Seals around the island.

The day before I arrived the whale watching boat had been looking for a Blue Whale, reported by a lobster fishing boat, and had stumbled on a Sperm Whale instead. Both species are rare in these waters. Humpbacks are common and Right Whales seen from time to time.

Lagenorhynchus acutus 3
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin

So late August through October in Bar Harbor seems to offer a reasonable chance to see this species, if the weather is good. Though Tiverton, Nova Sccoia might offer slightly better odds, especially as Tom’s boat can be chartered to go look especially for this species. I also saw White-beaked Dolphins here in 2010 which I don’t think are often (ever?) seen from Bar Harbor.


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