Shannon Nielsen spent her summer on the water in Maine and Canada, whale watching as an intern with Allied Whale.
Despite regular trips with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company, though, Nielsen had never seen a whale breach, she told McClatchy News. That is until a recent trip when she saw not one but three humpbacks breach at once.
Nielsen said she joined the Aug. 16 afternoon whale watching tour to conduct research, including identifying whales and collecting data about the creatures. That day, the tour boat headed to Grand Manan Bank, a feeding ground in Canada frequented by whales.
There was an unusually large pod of about 13 whales within about a mile of the boat, according to Nielsen.
“They were just super active that day,” Nielsen said. “They were doing a lot of tail lobbying, which is like lifting their fluke (tail) out of the air and just like flopping it back down on the water. They were doing pec fin slapping too, so they were just slapping their giant [pectoral] fins on the water.”
Nielsen said the whales were also trumpeting, which happens when they breathe heavily and make a noise that sounds like a trumpet. The boat also passed a pod of about 100 Atlantic white sided dolphins.
Things got even better when the boat witnessed three humpbacks breaching at the same time.
“It was off the stern of the boat and basically the two whales came up at once and as those two were falling back down into the water, the third one came up and breached as well,” Nielsen said. “It was just like crazy that this happened all in one day.”
Nielsen said seeing a single breach is not uncommon, and sometimes a second breach will happen a few minutes later. A triple breach is rare though.
“It’s really rare for them to do it at the same time,” she said. “So it was awesome.”
Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company shared a photo of the breach in an Aug. 17 Facebook post.
“Yesterday afternoon’s whale watch trip had some very rare and exciting behavior!” the tour agency wrote in their post. “Why do they breach? Not sure but it is hypothesized it’s for communication and or a means of knocking barnacles off their skin!”
Researchers identified the three whales who breached using a catalog of known humpbacks, Nielsen said. The humpbacks involved in the special show were Garden, Hawksbill and Touchdown.
“It was just an awesome day,” Nielsen said. “It was probably the best whale watch I’ve been on so far.”
Grand Manan is about 70 miles northeast of Bar Harbor.