Cashes Ledge Pelagic

A Northern Gannet

Cashes Ledge is an underwater mountain range, about 70 miles off the Maine coast, roughly halfway between Bar Harbor and Provincetown, Massachusetts.   Covering 550 square miles, it rises to just 24 feet below the surface.  This dramatic climb from the Gulf of Maine’s ocean floor creates an upwelling of nutrients . . . attracting fish, whales and sea birds.

About a month ago, I learned that the Bar Harbor based whale watch company, “Flukes”, was planning a mid-October wildlife trip to Cashes Ledge and I rushed to sign up.

This trip was challenging in a number of ways.  While we would be in a high speed catamaran, it would still be a 12 hour trip.  Three hours to get to Cashes Ledge and three hours to return.  The Gulf of Maine can be cold in mid-October, seas can be rough, and 12 hours on a bouncing boat can make one wobbly and even a little sea sick.

Ingrid had the good sense to spend the day with our new grandson . . . so at 2:15 am I climbed into my Subaru Crosstrac and began the near three hour drive to Bar Harbor.

“Flukes” had asked us to line up at the dock between 5:00 and 5:30 but for some reason the hundred birders and college students were not allowed to board until 6:00 . . . delayig our departure till 6:20.   My limited math skills told me that would reduce our time on Cashes Ledge by 20 minutes.   Not a great start.

Morning seas were rough, so we hugged the coast making brief stops at islands to check for birds, seals and lighthouses.  All great fun but again cutting into our time on target.

Soon our boat came upon a couple North Atlantic Right Whales . . . a rare and endangered species.  During the whaling era, Right Whales were greatly desired being slow, feeding near the surface and often close to shore.  They are full of oily blubber and did not sink after being harpooned.  Thus the name: “Right Whale.”

Right Whale Mother and Calf

Hunted to near extinction, Right Whale numbers have not recovered like Humpback Whales and other Atlantic species.  They remain vulnerable to ship collisions and fishing gear entanglements. There are just 340 North Atlantic Right Whales left in the world.

Right Whale Distinctive V Shaped Blow

We watched the Right Whales for over an hour.  It was amazing, but this was time coming off Cashes Ledge birding.

My anxiety continued to rise as we made long stops to observe a pod of Fin Whales (only the Blue Whale is larger) and a pair of Humpbacks a while later.

Fin Whale

By my rough estimates, we had spent almost three hours looking at whales.  Add in the slower than normal, shore hugging route . . . we were going to have limited time at our destination.

Upon arriving at Cashes Ledge, we saw hundreds of Bottlenose Dolphins (very rare in Maine waters) and chased them for a while.  Very cool, but more birding time lost.

We finally settled in on Cashes Ledge, chumming the water with suet and popcorn.  As hoped, the birds came in . . . Northern Fulmars, Pomarine Jaegers and Northern Gannets swirled around the boat.

Pomarine Jaeger

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a tiny migrating land bird . . . exhausted and lost over the ocean landed on board.  We saw a dozen other species similarly far from shore.

Unfortunately we soon had to head home . . . with less than an hour of actual birding on Cashes Ledge.  A bit disappointing . . . but still a great day . . . just wish we had spent more time on things with feathers.

Northern Fulmar

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