7/29/15

Log for July 29, 2015

This morning on board the Sanctuary with Captain Tom we headed out towards the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. The seas were like glass today which always makes for a beautiful whale watch, we were able to spot huge flocks of Wilson’s storm-petrels resting at the surface and got beautiful reflections of their tiny bodies on the still waters. 


Apart from the awesome seabirds, we spotted several fin whales and two humpback whales. We spent most of our trip with Citation, a new whale for me, who was doing some fluking dives and rather long 5 minute dives but she wasn’t moving very much and we got some great looks at this animal. 

Citation

As we left we spotted a second humpback whale who was logging but I recognized this whale’s dorsal fin, it was Cajun! Cajun is a real favorite out here on Stellwagen Bank and we’re very excited to have her back in our waters again.

This afternoon on the 2pm trip we headed out towards the southwest corner again but didn’t spot a thing, not even a bird! So we continued east and spotted a blow just south of the south east corner. We’d obviously come to the right place because we started to see blows in every direction. In this area we spotted about 8 humpback whales and two fin whales. 


Sanchal

The humpbacks were widely scattered and not spending a lot of time at the surface so we were only able to identify Sanchal, Northstar, Nile, and possibly Tongs. Sanchal gave us some great flipper slapping and another whale did a big chin slap as a surprise off in the distance. It was a great afternoon to beat the heat and head offshore to enjoy the company of these amazing animals.

—Tegan and Maddy

***

We had a beautiful day out on the water today with calm seas.  We cruised along down the back towards the southwest corner of Stellwagen and found 3 blue sharks along the way. 3! One of the sharks we got nice look at through the clear water and it was a unique site to see that many. Once we were closer to Provincetown we found two humpbacks in the area. One of them was being a little elusive so we turned to the second humpback and were able to later identify her as Cajun!  

Cajun returns!

She is a newly-sighted whale for the season and hopefully the latest whale sightings page will be updated to proudly display her name. Cajun is a very popular female whale in our population and has been a mother in the past, so it was wonderful seeing her today!  She was definitely resting at one point and taking longer dives when she went below the surface. 

—Laura Cupicha and Cassie Murray

7/26/15

Log for July 26, 2015

This morning Megan, Cassie, and I met rocky swells on the Southwest Corner.  The Aurora came furnished with both a weathered crew and Captain Chip, a veteran of Stellwagen Bank.  Together we found ourselves on an apparent association of four humpbacks, who were traveling in a tight formation for the south. We identified Mend, Northstar, Pele and Venom as they plowed through a barrage of waves atop mighty swells.  


Cassie, our intern with prior whale watching experience in Australia, suspected a fifth whale traveling in the association, and later in the evening we discovered Milkweed's fluke among our photos! 


We were also taken aback as the whales suddenly began traveling northward in the opposite direction, a diversion in course beyond speculation!  The quintet gradually eased their travel and one individual began flipper slapping as we made our reluctant return to the mainland.




On our 3pm venture we regained our position on the Southwest Corner with the same pelagic pack of cetaceans, whose behavior was being investigated by our comrades aboard the Miss Cape Ann.  



Venom continued to exhibit an incomplete fluke while Northstar, Mend, and Pele fluked shyly with shallow dives. As we observed these four leviathans a fifth exploded out of the Atlantic only a couple body lengths from our starboard side!  Milkweed had become the true epicenter of excitement, while her fellow nomads split off to travel in a more subdued fashion.  On our departure Cassie observed a pair of humpbacks head breaching in the distance, dutifully concluding this theater of cetacean percussion on Stellwagen Bank.


Today was a rousing introduction for many fledging whale watchers, and we ourselves may never grow weary of these encounters!

— Rich

7/19/15

Visitor Picture: July 2015

A fellow whale watcher recently shared a lovely picture of a whale alongside the newest boat in our whale watching fleet, Sanctuary. We thought followers of our Whale Watch Log would enjoy seeing it, too.

Credit: Harry Morris

We'd love to see your images, too. Please free to share your pictures with us on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr!

7/16/15

Log for July 16, 2015

This morning’s 10am whale watch turned around due to the rough seas and all passengers were given refunds. But by 2pm the seas had improved considerably so we headed out on board the Sanctuary with Captain Adam and crew. We headed out towards the southwest corner and quickly spotted some blows in the area. 


We spotted 10 humpback whales with many more in the distance. Among those that we have been able to identify were Aerospace, Music, Shuffleboard and her calf. Many of the whales were subsurface feeding but we were lucky to get some very close looks at Shuffleboard and an unidentified whale kick feeding and surface lunging right next to the boat. 


It was very exciting and well worth the trip out to the bank.

— Tegan

7/14/15

Log for July 14, 2015

Captain Jimmy and team Cetacea were first of the fleet to arrive on scene yesterday, where marine animal activity had exploded! We began stumbling across whales miles before approaching the bank. 


First we found Nile and Perseid logging amongst traveling minke and fin whales followed by a sighting of Ventisca subsurface feeding.


Soon, however, a horizon of whale spouts appeared before us! It was absolutely magical! As we approached, activity heated up and whales began breaching in all different directions. We realized quickly that a kick feeding frenzy was in play and that whales from all corners of Massachusetts Bay (and some) had swam in for the event. 


We slowly cruised through the whale soup, getting IDs upon IDs along the way. Passengers oohed and aahed as whales feasted around us.  Among them were Venom, Lilium, Stub, Calderas, Putter, Wyoming, Strike, Coral, Soot, Level, Lariat, Mira, Zodiac, and Lavalier. These sightings made up only a fraction of the whales out there. Spouts continued to stretched for another couple miles where whale watching boats from all over Massachusetts enjoyed similar displays. Birds of all species partook in the great sand lance feast, shearwaters and gulls alike.


It’s days like this that whale biologists (and whale lovers) anticipate and look forward to. Hopefully these whales will continue to grace us with their presence in the coming days!

I can’t forget to mention the grand finale! En route to Boston, we came across Nile and Perseid, now alert and breaching together! You can’t ask for much more on the water :)

— Tasia

***


Aboard the Aurora with Captain Jeff we headed out to the SW corner to find a HUGE feeding frenzy! We estimated a total of 30-40 whales scattered about, consisting of mainly humpbacks kick feeding and bubble net feeding, with a few fin whales in the mix. This is the most whales I think I’ve seen on Stellwagen bank all season! And our research intern Connie had quite her hands full trying to record all the different sightings around us today – any direction we looked we would see blows and remnants of bubble clouds, as well as splashing of kicking flukes (see photo).


It was fabulous to see so many open mouths filtering at the surface – one has to wonder just how much sand lance/feed is in the area right now? On trips like this, I often get asked, “is this common, or will this last?” – to put in it perspective, two years ago at this exact same time of the year, we pretty much had only one whale on the bank, which was Nile on the SW corner. 



I use this as a reminder of just how variable Stellwagen bank can be – over the last few decades the Stellwagen region has often fluctuated with whale activity, and every day on the water really is different! Days like this are always special, as tomorrow there could easily be just a few whales in the area. We still have much to learn about the abundance (and sometimes lack) of prey in the region. It is not a general trend upward, but rather quite variable as far as we have observed!


In our frenzy of feeding we found it difficult to ID many whales, but some of our list included Stub, Raccoon, Reaper, Lavalier, Tear, Soot, & Pleats. With all of our boats on the water today – our combined sightings emails have created quite a list of ID’s!

— Laura

7/12/15

Log for July 12, 2015

On our 12pm trip aboard the Asteria, we went to the Southwest corner of Stellwagen bank and found numerous whales, as well as many recreational fishing boats. First we spent time with a pair of humpbacks; Tracer and Tornado. These two were taking some nice fluking dives, making it easy to ID them. Only moving about 1/2 a mile west we observed a group of 4 humpbacks! 


It was Venom, Music, Aswan, and Calderas. We had some awesome looks at these four while they were at the surface between feeding sessions. Cassie, the intern on board, and I believed that there were 5-6 other humpbacks, 4 minkes, and 3 more fin whales in our general area.


I am not even sure how to begin yesterday's 5pm sightings. It was one of those trips one will never forget. As we left Central Wharf we got a glowing report about whale activity on the southeastern edge of the bank. We hurried as fast as we could out to Stellwagen. As we approached the spot where we spent our earlier trip, we started seeing whales. 


We quickly stopped with Aswan and Music as lay logged at the surface. Logging whales? That wasn't what we heard from the report. So Captain Joe wisely made the decision of keep traveling east along the bank to see what more we could find. And wow, it was worth it!! As we traveled along we saw blows EVERYWHERE. Cassie and I counted blow after blow. There were 40+ humpbacks whales out there! And to top it all off, most of them were surface active! 


We didn't know which individuals or groups to stop with first. Everyone on board was treated to repeated tail breaches, pectoral flipper slapping, breaches, and tail slapping. 


We stopped with as many humpbacks as time allowed during our trip while enjoying a perfect summer sunset. Some of the IDs from the trip included Samovar, Glo, Reflection, Pitcher, Perseid, Pregunta, and Seal. We also watched 2 different mom/ calf pairs and are working on IDing them. All in all its was a FANTASTIC trip. 


Big shout out to Captain Joe and the crew on board the Asteria for going above and beyond for us to have sightings like we did. We were welcomed back to Boston by the Queen Mary 2 and the Portugues Naval Ship, The Sagres, completely lit up awaiting a grand fireworks display over the city.

I hope we get more trips like this throughout the season. 

— Hannah Pittore

7/11/15

Log for July 11, 2015

Today we joined Captain Earl aboard the Aurora for an 11am visitation to the feeding grounds on the Southwest Corner. Upon our arrival we sighted several groups of humpback whales who were indulging on sand lance visible at the ocean surface.  


Amongst a pair of humpbacks we identified the cetacean succubus named Dracula, who glamoured us with enchanting bubblenet feeding displays. As this mysticete impaled the ocean surface with its hungry rostrum, another humpback by the name of Reaper plowed the Atlantic in prolonged displays of open-mouth feeding. 


Reaper engaged in the serpentine dance called “snaking”, contorting in feats of dexterity while throwing back its head to emit abrupt blows!  Reaper concluded this perplexing bucking behavior with several tail breaches, leaving many with the conviction that whales can sometimes be quite strange.  


Spoon and her calf eventually arrived on the scene, and their humpback neighbors Glo and Nile made a late but welcome appearance as well. The exhibition was brought to its finale with the arrival of many a minke, completing the rorqual ruckus that was our midday whale watch.

During our 3pm expedition we returned to the south with a boat fresh with new passengers, eager to introduce them to further Atlantic acrobatics. We were successful in rediscovering Spoon with her calf, in addition to humpbacks Northstar, Soot, Nile, Level, Lariat, Peninsula, and Tornado! 


Our evening hit its climax upon sighting Fulcrum and her surface active calf!  While this youngster rolled upon the surface, the mother began “snaking” and permitted a few herring gulls to hitch-hike atop her rostrum!  


The calf shyly obscured its fluke pattern from our camera, but Fulcrum was quite bold until our departure, bidding us farewell with enormous clouds of defecation and a breeze ripe with the scent of snarge.


Stellwagen Bank and its inhabitants has continued to astonish us, and I look forward to the next escape from the mainland!

— Rich

7/4/15

Log for July 4, 2015

Happy 4th of July!!

We had an absolutely spectacular day for both trips on the Aurora with our phenomenal Captain Earl! His dedication to providing spectacular whale watches to our passengers definitely showed today and we even had an engagement on our first trip. She said yes!!  


We traveled to the southeast corner of Stellwagen near Provincetown. On our ride down we passed a traveling pair of minke whales, which is something we do not see every day. We then found Unknown #16 and Unknown #29 traveling, but then split soon after we got onto whales. After a few surfacings from these two singles we saw repetitive breaching about 2-3 miles away.  


Once we arrived to that location we were happy to see Spoon and her calf!  The calf was initially flipper slapping and then settled down to milling near Spoon.  We did also see a minke nearby actually feeding and pulling its head right out of the water.


Our second trip was simply exhilarating! We headed to the same area and found Unknown #18 and a second humpback a little less than ¼ mile away. We watched stationed in between these two humpback for a few surfacings and then headed slightly north to find Spoon and her calf. Once we arrived the calf completed a full spinning head breach and then started playing and became very active. The calf was conducting tail breaches, flipper slaps, rolling at the surface, tail slashes, trumpet blows and seemed very curious with our presence!  


The water was so calm passengers were able to see straight into the water and could see the whole calf next to Spoon. We could even see an eye!  Passengers became proficient at seeing their neon green patches, or large white flippers, slowly rising to the surface and were so excited to call them out!  Spoon even joined in for some flipper slapping, trumpet blows, and even did a tail breach of her own!  It was an absolutely gorgeous day out on the water with an exciting mother/calf pair, a beautiful sunset, and a successful marriage proposal!  

Thank you Earl for making this a 4th of July to remember! Enjoy the fireworks!!

— Laura C

6/25/15

Log for June 25, 2015

The conditions on Stellwagen Bank could not be beat with light winds, catspaw seas, and plenty of sunshine. We started the day with Nile and Pitcher who looked to be doing some subsurface feeding. 


While the whales were feeding deep there were quite a few gulls “attending” the whales and swooping whenever they surfaced. I even spotted a few taking off with fish in their beaks. Despite my best efforts I wasn’t able to get a photo of this, though if you look closely at my photo of the gull, you might pick out a fish’s tail sticking out of its mouth. 


The bright sun and calm waters meant we had awesome views of the humpbacks’ long bright white pectoral fins which glow green in our plankton laden waters. We decided to go exploring after a bit and continued even farther east and found a scattering of blows around us. As we admired a curious grey seal, a humpback surface close by and I was able to identify a younger animal, our un-named #27. 


This is a very small whale, especially after seeing big Nile but we got some excellent looks at this whale but it ended up taking very long dives and travelling long distances on each surfacing. We got a few looks plus a second grey seal sightings and headed back to Boston. It was an excellent day on the water for all.

— Tegan

6/23/15

Log for June 23, 2015

This morning we headed out to the SW Corner of Stellwagen. As soon as we crossed over onto the bank, we were excited to spot a massive mother finback whale with her calf! This pair was floating together at the surface and might have been nursing! After a minute or so, this pair ducked down on a dive. The next time we spotted these whales they had travelled a bit further away. After we caught up with them, they both dove once again, or so we thought. All of a sudden we spotted the young whale just below the surface directly in across the pulpits! Everyone on the bow got an amazingly close look at this curious calf! Very rarely are finwhales so interested in whale watch boats! 


After this encounter we moved on to check out some other whales that had been reported a few miles away! Along the way we spotted yet another finback and another separate humpback that we were unable to photograph. We spotted some splashing in the distance and decided to investigate! 


The grand finale to our whale watch was watching Spoon, Spoon’s 2015 calf and Mostaza’s 2014 calf splashing around at the surface! Both the calf and the yearling were rolling about at the surface and Spoon exhibited a huge tail breach which excited our passengers! Luckily we had a great whale watch before the forecasted storm rolled in!

— Annie Goodenough

***

Today we fought our way through the doldrums of Stellwagen Bank in search of humpback whales.  We joined forces again with our friend Captain Jeff in looking for blows amongst the white caps of turbid seas. Despite several moments of fruitless efforts, one whale made its presence known with a full breach!  We spent a few surface intervals with this ocean wanderer, only to be rewarded with minimal activity and a cease in theatrics.


Our Aquarium intern, Foster, jarred my attention as she witnessed a surge of white water erupting off our starboard!  She artfully identified this juvenile as Mostaza’s 2014 Calf from the dorsal fin alone!  


The airborne mountain of blubber and flesh parted the ocean surface in an eruption of white spray, reminiscent of a mechanical submarine returning from its slumber in the unseen abyss.  This celebration of power turned into a veritable tantrum, as the youth even began chin breaching and tossing its pectoral flippers about when not fully airborne.  The seas themselves became rowdy, as two swells burst upon the port pulpit, leaving all survivors drenched and clamoring for safety in the first deck cabin!

Our yearning for whale activity was sated as we departed for terrestrial grounds, and today’s endeavor was a righteous maritime introduction for people new to the majesty of our ocean.

— Rich

6/20/15

Log for June 20, 2015

We spent both the 11 am whale watch and the 3 pm whale watch with two very special whales today Spoon and her calf. In the morning we found the pair to the west of the bank surrounded by some smaller vessels. 



The calf definitely seemed to be directing its behaviors towards one of these boats with a lot of rolling, tail slashing and tail lobbing near it while Spoon spent a lot of time just below the surface a distance away. The pair would taking fluking dives ever once in a while and seemed to be travelling towards the south with every dive. Towards the end of our trip we had two fantastic passes by both Spoon and the calf.





Spoon surfaced near our boat and swam just below the surface along our side and I guess the calf decided to finally come back to mom because it also surface right near us and did a few rolls at the surface for us. The visibility into the water was great today and we got awesome looks at those glowing green pectoral fins showing us where Spoon and calf were in the water. Just as we left we spotted behavior from the calf which definitely looked like it was nursing! Always fun to see!



In the afternoon we headed out towards the southwest corner were all the action had moved. Initially we didn’t spot anything and were debating heading farther east to where the Aurora was when we spotted a huge splash – a breach! We went to investigate and spotted Spoon and calf again. The calf was very active with tail breaches and tail lobs and flipper slaps. Even mom got in on the action this time and gave a few flipper slaps. Seeing a full grown humpback’s pectoral fin, especially one as big as Spoon, is always a treat! Things quieted down for this pair and they kept up their fluking dives and logging. I also spotted my first Wilson’s storm petrel of the season today and my first Cory’s shearwater two of my favorite pelagic sea birds!

— Tegan

***

Captain Earl took us out to the southern half of Stellwagen Bank in search of whales. There we were in the company of a few other boats as we came across a pair that we have been seeing several times over the past several days: Spoon and her 2015 calf! 



At first they were doing 4-5 minute dives and not spending too much time at the surface. Then, after we had been observing them for about 20 minutes, the calf became very curious about us and came right up on our port side for a good long look at our boat and passengers!  This little precocious guy was so close that up on our researcher platform on the third deck we had a hard time seeing it, but our passengers sure did get fantastic looks! At one point, it became a bit difficult to tell who was watching whom.



The calf rolled and showed us its ventral pleats, flippers, and belly button while Spoon rested nearby.  She seemed very relaxed (or perhaps a bit worn out taking care of such a vibrant calf) while the calf investigated us and the other boats in the area up close.


In the afternoon, we returned in search of Spoon and calf and perhaps some other individuals down off the cape. As we got into the area, we quickly resighted the mother and calf, but also had a third individual pop up not too far from them! This might have been one of the yearlings we have been seeing consistently over the past couple of weeks. This third individual did not join Spoon and calf, but continued to remain in the area and even began to do some intermittent surface activity in the distance.  At one point, Spoon and her curious calf came right up next to us!  The calf investigated our boat once again, and then all of a sudden Spoon herself gave a tremendous tail breach!



It is possible that she may have been responding to that other surface active humpback in the distance.  Since sound travels 6 times faster in water than it does in air, whales are able to communicate primarily via sound and across long distances. We have often observed when one whale begins surface activity, others in the area might respond as well. Her calf continued to ham it up a bit until we moved off in search of a few other individuals in the area.  We drove a bit down the back side of the cape and saw a few other blows spread out in the distance and were able to get a few quick looks of another humpback with a very distinctive dorsal fin.  Unfortunately every time this whale fluked, it was at the wrong angle for an ID – however with such a unique dorsal fin, we should be able to find out who it was eventually.  We also were briefly investigated by a very curious gray seal that did a circle around us!

— Heidi (with interns Jess and Megan)

***

Today on board the Asteria with Captain Deb we headed to the Southwest corner with a full boat. We barely had time to spot for whales when we saw spouts and some splashing close to a small recreational boat in the area. 


As we got close to these whales we saw a bit of a fluke-it looked like the whale was on its side-and as we got even closer this whale breached! This pair of whales turned out to be Spoon and her 2015 calf. 


While Spoon spent most of her time at the surface travelling or just below the surface, her calf was extremely active. This little one split its time between lots of flipper slapping, rolling, spyhopping, and fluking. 


In addition, by the end of the trip he/she had tail breached and lobtailed multiple times. Spoon and calf were pretty much travelling towards Provincetown on the surface during the entire trip, however, at the end each took a dive, showing their fluke, and were under for at least 5 minutes. This was completely out of the pattern of what they had been doing and we were about to head back home when both surfaced directly off of the starboard side surprising everyone! They spent another couple of minutes at the surface before taking another beautiful dive that ended up being our last look.

It was an absolutely beautiful day with some great whales!

— Annie W and Maddy