Sperm whale sighted off eastern Maine coast

Posted Sept. 15, 2011, at 6:08 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A blue whale spotted last weekend off Boothbay is not the only rare whale seen off the coast of Maine this summer.

According to naturalists who were on a Sept. 10 whale and seabird trip out of Bar Harbor, they spotted a sperm whale about 55 miles east of Mount Desert Island in Canadian waters. The whale was seen during the annual Maine Audubon trip, hosted by the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company.

The whale was estimated to be about 40 feet long and to weigh between 60,000 and 80,000 pounds.

Zach Klyver, lead naturalist for the whale watch company, said in a release that several sperm whales have been seen nearby in the past two years in the Bay of Fundy by whale researchers and Canadian whale-watch boats. Whale-watch boats from Bar Harbor rarely come across sperm whales, he noted. The last time it happened was in 1998.

“Usually their presence signifies a strong abundance of squid, their favorite prey,” Klyver said. “The sighting took place in 585 feet of water and the whale stayed on the surface for a number of big breaths before making a terminal dive and lifting its flukes high up out of the water.”

Sperm whales are among several types of whale protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and, like all whale species, they are protected from commercial hunting by the International Whaling Commission. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as of 1998 there were 4,700 sperm whales estimated to be living in the north Atlantic Ocean.

Like blue whales, sperm whales generally are considered to live in deeper waters and are not seen near the Maine coast as often as right, humpback and minke whales.

According to Richard Sears of the Quebec-based Mignan Island Cetacean Society, only 460 blue whales are believed to live in the western North Atlantic. He said they generally stay away from the coast along the continental shelf, but that one or more is reported in the Gulf of Maine every couple of years.

Sears said Tuesday that his organization maintains the official photo catalog of the North Atlantic blue whale population. He said that anyone with photos of the blue whale sighted Sept. 11 off Boothbay should email them to him, so he can see if it matches any known whales in their photo catalog.

Sears said he can be contacted at rsblues@polysoft.com.

Follow BDN staff reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at twitter.com/billtrotter.

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