CAPE ELIZABETH — August in Maine is usually a delight, but visitors to Two Lights State Park have been privy to an extra attraction.

At least one minke whale has made the waters near the state park’s rocky shoreline a favored feeding ground this summer, and has often been spotted cruising a short distance from the shore in the midafternoons. While a solitary whale is often seen swimming along the surface, some lucky visitors have seen as many as three whales at a time.

“It’s a Maine summer treat, that’s for sure,” said Park Ranger Ron Ahlquist, who works at Two Lights and nearby Crescent Beach State Park and said the whale or whales have made themselves at home this year. “It’s more than normal, that’s for sure.”

While some whale-watchers pay good money to be ferried miles offshore in hopes of catching a glimpse of the gentle giants, the minke whales in Cape Elizabeth have been coming close enough to shore to be easily seen with the naked eye.

The working theory according to Ahlquist is that the minke whales are chasing pogies, the ubiquitous, oily fish that have become vital as lobster bait and are used in industry for all manner of fish-related products.

University of New England associate professor Kathryn Ono, who studies and teaches about marine mammals, said minke are the most common baleen whale in the Gulf of Maine, which are distinguished by their bony mouth plates used to catch the tiny krill and some small fish that make up their diet.


Minke whales are also among some of the smallest baleen whales, topping out at around 25 feet long and weighing about 10 tons. They can live to be 40 or 50 years old.

After viewing a short video posted this month by a Long Island lobsterman who spotted a breaching whale off Two Lights, Ono said with some certainty that they are indeed minke.

“The definitive identification on a minke is they have these white patches that run from their shoulder to their elbow,” Ono said.

She added: “That’s cool that they’re so close in, but given that there’s a lot of food there, it’s not that surprising.”

Usually minke prefer to cruise for food farther offshore, she said, but will follow the schools of fish wherever they might go, and fish such as pogies are typical of their diet.

Steve Train, the lobsterman who captured the video of the whales surging through the surface, said he’s seen more of them closer to shore this summer as he hauls traps. He said he shot the video less than a mile from Dyer’s Cove, which near the northern end of Two Lights.


“I’ve never seen a minke breach like that, surging up through to feed,” said Train, 51. “And I think that’s what it was doing, although it could have been playing.”

While lobstermen are more accustomed to seeing minke whales, the close encounters have been entirely unexpected for visitors to Two Lights.

Amelia Greenlee, 16, of Cumberland said she had just sat down on the rocks on Monday with her family when she turned her head toward the water and spotted one about 50 yards off shore, she estimated.

“I saw the back of a whale, with the dorsal fin rolling through the water,” Greenlee said. “I was alarmed, because I didn’t expect to see it. I asked my parents if they saw it, and they kind of believed me but they kind of didn’t.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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