“Oohs” and “ahs” erupted from the starboard side of the Friendship V where a white-sided dolphin had surfaced with its calf.
Then, hundreds more of the marine mammals broke through the calm, rolling swells of the North Atlantic.
The Friendship V’s passengers continued to marvel at the large pod of dolphins as the whale-watching vessels did giant donuts in the sea to provide a closer look.
The acrobatic show put on by the dolphins was just one of the memorable sights on Bar Harbor Whale Watch’s 3.5-hour cruise to see whales, puffins and other marine life at sea.
Departing from West Street beside the Bar Harbor town pier, Bar Harbor Whale Watch offers diverse excursions ranging from whale-watching to the Downeast coast’s far-flung lighthouses. Going ashore on Baker Island and exploring the Penobscot River are other options.
Whales are on many sightseers’ bucket lists. Minke, finbacks and humpbacks are the main species that return annually to summer feeding areas in the North Atlantic. Blue whales and even a beluga have been spotted too.
Fewer whales had been spotted at the time of this late July cruise, but their numbers would grow substantially in August. If whale-watch passengers don’t get to see a whale, their tickets become vouchers for another tour and are good for three years.
Still, fewer whales did not diminish the Friendship V passengers’ experience in late July. The vessel’s naturalist Julie Taylor pointed out schools of porpoise and harbor seals basking on seaweed-swathed ledges and outcroppings. She noted that many species of shark — basking, thresher, shortfin mako and great white — inhabit offshore waters.
Called the “clown of the sea” or “sea parrots,” the Atlantic puffin is another draw for visitors to far-eastern coastal Maine. The diminutive birds, with their multicolored bills and orange legs and feet, nest on remote Maine islands from mid-July through early August.
The small, but powerful sea birds can fly up to 50 miles an hour. They have barbed beaks enabling them hold large numbers of fish — as many as 30 at one time.
Petit Manan Island, a 9-acre treeless isle about 2.5 miles south of Petit Manan Point in Steuben, boasts a longtime puffin colony that is visible from the water by passengers aboard the Friendship V.
This July morning, passengers also got to see a mola mola — the world’s largest known bony fish — as it basked on its side with its dorsal fin up in the sun. The vessel’s captain expertly maneuvered around the aquatic beast so folks on each side could see it.
Lighthouses hold a special allure and are plentiful in coastal Maine and integral to Bar Harbor Whale Watch’s tours. Petit Manan Island’s tower — the second tallest in Maine — as well as the Egg Rock and Winter Harbor lights and their windswept settings make good photos to take home and remember a Maine vacation.
Bar Harbor Whale Watch offers a variety of daily tours through Oct. 31. For more info, call 288-2386 and visit www.barharborwhales.com.-288-