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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones
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Baleen Whales

Humpback Whale
Minke Whale
Sei Whale
Fin Whale
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Baleen Whales

Sei Whale

Balaenoptera borealis



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Sei Whale NH Leonard Medlock

Sei Whale off the coast of NH. Tall dorsal fin and double blow hole visible at the same time.  Leonard Medlock.

Fast, Sleek, Enigmatic
This is the way Pieter Folkens (2002) introduces the Sei Whale. Fast because the Fin Whale and the Sei Whale are the fastest of the great whales. Sleek because the body is slim with small flippers and resembles that of the Blue, Fin and Minke Whales.

Enigmatic describe a person, thing or situation that is mysterious, puzzling, or ambiguous. In the case of the Sei Whale elusive might be a better description because the Sei Whale is unpredictable in distribution. For a number of years it may appear regularly in an area then be absent for years. So no wonder we were so excited when seven Sei Whales took up residence off the coast of New Hampshire in August of 2010. Leonard Medlock and Joe Besada obtained some excellent photographs.

In the spring of 2015 a large group of Sei Whales was seen for a week near Cashes Ledge off the coast of New Hampshire.  The NH Audubon spring pelagic on  May 25 out of Rye, NH enjoyed over an hour of watching 21 Sei Whales feeding on the surface and coming close to the boat.  

No trip or whale watch can promise you a Sei Whale. You just have to get out there and get very lucky.

The Sei Whale is a baleen whale, smaller than the Fin Whale and larger than the Minke Whale. The Sei Whale has throat groves and two blow holes like all Baleen Whales.

Look for the very tall, sickle shaped dorsal fin to separate the Sei Whale from the similar Fin Whale. As you can see in the photograph above, the dorsal fin and the blow hole can be above the water at the same time.

The larger Fin Whale has a dorsal fin that is wider at the base than it is tall and usually the blow holes are under water when the dorsal fin is above water. See the photographs below that compare the dorsal fins of the Fin Whale and the Sei Whale.

The Minke Whale is much smaller and has white markings on the flippers and behind the head. Dorsal fin seen simultaneously with the blow.

May be confused with Bryde's Whale (Budah) which is further south and to my knowledge never identified in New England waters..

Like the Fin and Minke Whales, the Sei Whales is not much of a performer on the surface and it is probably frequently overlooked.

Compare the sickle shaped dorsal fins of the Fin Whale with the Sei Whale . Whale are facing in opposite directions.

Fin Whale Leonard Medlock

Fin Whale

Dorsal fin attachment makes a 1300 degree angle with the forward part of the back. The fin is wider than it is tall. Leonard Medlock photograph. Head of whale is to the right.

Sei Whale Leonard Medlock

Sei Whale

The smaller Sei Whale dorsal fin is taller than it is wide and the angle with the forward part of the back is closer to 90 degrees; Leonard Medlock. Head of whale is to the left.

Joe Beseda Sei Whale.  Blow holes and blow are still visible and dorsal fin is above the water.

The Sei Whale seldom breaches and does not raise flukes on a dive. It swims almost as fast as the Fin Whale and avoids ships.

The Sei Whale is worldwide in distribution including tropical, subtropical, and arctic waters. It may be found on the continental shelf and in open water. Recently (2010 and 2015) it has been photographed in the Gulf of Maine off the coast of New Hampshire.

Makes seasonal migrations to warmer waters in winter. Breeding grounds are unknown.

Mostly copepods, krill and small fish. (Folkens 2002)

Fantastic Trip  2015

May of 2015, a NH Audubon trip out of Rye,NH saw 21 Sei Whales feeding activtely by skimming along the top of the water with their mouthes partially open.  Whales were so intent on feeding that they swam right up to stopped boat.  Here are some pictures taken by Jim Besada of that memorable experience.

Sei Whale J Besada May 2015

Sei Whale skimming over the water with mouth open.  Notice the baleen hanging from upper jaw.  Photo by Joe Besada.

SeiWhale J Besada Rye NH 5/15
This photo shows the ridge on the top of the head and the double blow hole behind.  Joe Besada

Sei Whale feeding Jim Besada

A better picture of the inside of the mouth and the baleen that hangs from the upper jaw.  Joe Besada

Sei Whale baleen on upper jaw to right.  Notice throat groves on the lower jaw.

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Folkens, Peter (2002) Guide to Marine Mammals of the World Alfred A. Knopf New York

Kinze, Carl Charistian (2001) Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic Princeton University Press Princeton NJ