Whales of the Acadia Coast
One of our recent guests to SeaCat’s Rest wanted to come in early October, but was concerned that the whale watching cruises would be over by then. I contacted Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. and they told me that the usual end point for whale trips was anytime after the middle of October, and the reason is that the whales pack up and leave, and arrive again in May (cruises start in June).
The twenty-first century “whaling industry” is much different from the 19th century, when whales were hunted for their fat content in pre-petroleum America. Besides the whale watch trips, which are not as disruptive and invasive as you may think, College of the Atlantic has a major program of whale study, including the Adopt-A-Whale program and stranding rescue. Both these programs are done by Allied Whale, and more can be learned by visiting the Bar Harbor Whale Museum. Whale adoption helps to fund research and is quite affordable. For $30 you can adopt a finback or humpback whale and for $40, a mother and calf pair. You get adoption papers too! A great Christmas gift idea.
You may think the whale watch boats chase down the whales and bother them. Actually, once the boat is in the area, the whales like to come by for a visit. They like to roll around and show off, seeming to enjoy the encounter. Whales are very intelligent animals, a finback’s brain weighs 6.9 kilograms, five times a human’s. If the boats were bothering them I think they’d let us know, and the College of the Atlantic (C.O.A.) and Allied Whale would not accept funding donations from the cruise operators.
Besides smaller marine mammals and birds, the whales you are likely to see on the whale watch boats leaving from Bar Harbor are finback, humpback and minke. Occasionally the endangered northern right whale is sighted. At 130 tons and a length of up to 89 feet, the finback is the biggest in the area, second only to the blue whale. Humpbacks come in second with a length of 56 feet and a weight of 45 tons, but they’re the most athletic, as the above sequence of pictures reveals. Finally, the minkes weigh 5-10 tons and are up to 35 feet long.
The trip out to the whale habitat is long, about to the middle of the Gulf of Maine, or halfway to Nova Scotia. This is serious ocean out here and the waves are often big swells. Until the new catamarans (twin hulls) were adopted, the journey was unpleasant for folks with sensitive stomachs. Now it’s much better, but the motion can still be a factor. The twin hulls also mean a faster trip so more time is available for watching and less for getting there.
Most of the activities in and around Acadia National Park are environmentally benign and the whale watch cruises are no exception. At around $62 for adults ($11 for kids under 6 and $31 for older kids) the price for a trip is not cheap but also not outrageous. Spend the following day on a hike for free (scroll down for one) and the daily cost averages lower. Thanks to youtube poster Richard for this fine video: