10/15/14

2014 Sightings | October 15

What a beautiful, warm fall day for whale watching! This afternoon aboard the Asteria, we were pleased to see Salt’s newest grand calf (excluding her great grand calf, Etch-a-sketch’s calf) for the first time!

Thalassa off the bow, check out how broad she is all fattened up for the winter!

Thalassa and calf

Thalassa, born to Salt back in 1985, has been seen with her calf throughout the feeding season a number of times this year, but we hadn’t come across the duo until today. This experienced mom and her 2014 calf were with a whale named Lilium this afternoon.

Lillium, Thalassa and calf

This trio spent the entire whale watch circling our boat, popping up over and over on either side. The calf seemed to be the most curious member of the group and the others joined along. I have never seen whale approach a boat so many times in all my whale watches.

Thalassa's calf

It was really exciting to see such interactive behavior which allowed us to view this calf almost within arm’s reach as we idled and allowed the calf to move about. It even did a little flipper slapping for us at one point! We had amazing looks of Thalassa too who is an enormous whale!!

Photo op: Thalassa's calf's head

Thalassa's calf was a very curious whale

Nearby, we spotted at least three other humpback whales and possibly a fin whale. One of the these humpbacks came close enough for us to ID it as Palette which is another new sighting for us!

There were lots of northern gannets out today but few other birds on the corner. We did, however, see a number of different duck species around the harbor that were a little too far away from us to identify. Overall, we had a great day of whale watching!

Tasia

10/13/14

2014 Sightings | October 13

We had another awesome whale watch this afternoon out on the southwest corner with lots of bubble net feeding. We started off our trip watching Wizard and her 2014 calf. Wizard was actively bubble-netting while the calf followed closely behind. There were a lot of other whales in the area too so we decided to see what other humpbacks were in the mix today.

Open-mouth feeding

As we changed our focus, we saw Baja and her 2014 calf doing a similar behavior as Wizard and her calf. In the area, there was also a larger group of whales who were joining and splitting left and right. We saw Salt, Midnight and calf, Milkweed and calf, Dome and Colt who were bubble netting up a storm.

More open-mouth feeding behavior

It was really easy to keep track of where the whales would pop up next because of the massive amount of bird activity in the area. We would notice the birds taking flight and hovering over an area, then a bubble net would form beneath them and the whales would surface like clock-work!

We are not alone.

Great to have some extra help from the birds today! There really wasn’t a dull moment out on the water today. The whales were concentrated in this obviously productive area. Hopefully the fish populations will stay strong for a while, because the sightings lately have been exceptional!

—Annie

10/12/14

2014 Sightings | October 12

We had an awesome day out on the southwest corner this morning! Just before crossing over onto Stellwagen Bank, we spotted a blow at our 9 o’clock position. We headed in that direction and found a humpback named Fulcrum.

The grand dame Salt close to the boat

Fulcrum has a very distinct dorsal fin (or lack thereof) because she endured a pretty nasty propeller scar at some point in her life. After spending a few minutes with Fulcrum, we decided to move ahead to the area where we had sightings yesterday. Once we arrived in this area, we saw groups of humpbacks all over the place! We recognized one whale right away and it was SALT! Throughout the trip we were able to ID Salt, Milkweed and calf, Midnight and calf, Baja and calf!

Salt and Midnight open-mouth feeding

We had great looks of Salt and Midnight bubble-net feeding together! Both of these whales had very significant scarring on their upper right lips. Bubble-nets were forming left and right, port and starboard for everyone to enjoy. We also saw Baja bubble-netting alone in the area. The calves were following alongside their feeding mothers, hopefully taking mental notes on their different feeding strategies. At one point Salt, the most famous whale on Stellwagen Bank, swam super close to us across the bow, fearless of the whale paparazzi. In the midst of the excitement we saw some tail breaching and at one point Salt flicked her tail right next to us!

Open-mouth feeding awesomeness!

It was so great to see a bubble-feeding bonanza this morning. Along with the whales, we saw a wide variety of birds! Everything from Northern Gannets and Herring Gulls to Canadian geese and Warblers!

Have a good one!

Annie

10/11/14

2014 Sightings | October 11

We had an another day of amazing whale watching out on Stellwagen Bank!

See? Amazing! Midnight's calf stole the show

Midnight and Milkweed feeding

We saw four different mother calf pairs including Wizard, Milkweed, Midnight and Baja and each of their calves! As far as we know, this is the first time Baja has been seen this season. We are very excited to see that we caught her just in time to learn of her 2014 calf before they split.

Calf open-mouth feeding

Both Milkweed and Baja’s calves were exhibiting signs of grown up feeding! Milkweed’s calf was blowing bubbles and surfacing between them while Baja’s calf surfaced a couple times with a big open mouth!

Midnight's calf

Midnight’s calf was the one who really stole the show. This energetic calf breached and flipper-slapped throughout the ENTIRE whale watch! Everyone on board was pretty drenched by the end of the whale watch, but I’m sure everyone on board would agree that it was well worth it!

Midnight's acrobatic and energetic calf

Overall, there were probably about 15 different humpbacks in the area, many of which we were unable to identify in the rain. We did, however, recognize one duo as Salt and Colt who have been together for a few days now. We can’t wait to get back on the water to see what tomorrow has to offer!

Tasia

***

This afternoon we travelled out to the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. The rain and fog was worrisome, but it certainly didn’t stop us from having an outstanding trip. Once we reached the corner, we spotted a minke whale right away pretty close to our boat. There were other blows from larger whales in the distance though, so we continued forward. There were a few other whale watch boats in the area who were watching humpbacks as well, but we decided to continue on to find whales of our own. Suddenly, we spotted a breaching humpback  about a mile in the distance! We headed in that direction as the whale continued to breach two more times. Once things started to settle down we noticed more and more whales in the area!
 
Wizard's fluke close to boat

Wizard open-mouth feeding

Wizard's extreme closeup

We spent the beginning of our trip watching Wizard and her 2014 calf. Wizard was actively feeding and made huge bubble-nets that both her and her calf surfaced in. At one point, they surfaced right next to our starboard pulpit and everyone got a super close look. Check out the photo of Wizard’s open mouth, with scarring on the right upper lip along with the photo of Wizard’s fluke right next to the boat!

Baja's calf practice feeding

Later on, we watched Baja and her 2014 calf! This pair is a new sighting for us this season! It’s amazing that even at the end of the season, we continue to see new whales! Baja’s calf was practicing feeding right along-side her mother. At the end of the trip, we were treated to a HUGE breach from one of the adults in the area. It was a great finale to a full day out on the water. Overall there were 8-10 humpbacks in the area and a few more minkes as well. Also, we saw many shearwaters and some Northern Gannets. Glad to see the skies are clearing up for tomorrow!

— Annie G.

10/10/14

2014 Season | October 10

Today we travelled up to an area just south of Jeffrey’s Ledge in search of whales! We started our trip with Tornado and her 2014 calf. These two were taking super short 1-3 minute dives travelling all around the area.

Tornado and calf

At one point, Tornado came up to the surface with a big mouthful of water and fish. Tornado filtered just below the surface while her calf bobbed up to the surface here and there. There were many other blows in the area, and we moved forward to inspect a fin whale that was traveling through the area.

Fin whale

Fin whale alongside the boat

We waited for the fin whale to pop back up to the surface when suddenly, just off our port side, the fin whale slowly floated up to the surface. It was so exciting to get to see this beautiful finback so close and so slow at the surface. It conveniently surfaced so that we could get a look at the beautiful chevron patch on the right side of the animal. Usually when we see fin whales they are moving too quickly for us to keep up with so this look was a real treat.

Jabiru

After watching the fin whale for a bit, we moved on to look at Jabiru, another humpback whale in the area! As we started to run low on time, we decided to finish up our trip with another look at Tornado and calf. We were treated to an amazingly close final look at this mother-calf pair. It was a great day out on the water with bright skies and a few Northern Gannets scattered around the area!

As I wrap up my report, I have some great news to share. I have just found out that I will be working as a naturalist for the Pacific Whale Foundation in Maui this winter! I am so excited for this new opportunity and I would like to thank all the passengers I’ve talked to over the past few weeks about this for keeping their fingers crossed for me!

— Annie

10/9/14

2014 Season | October 9

We had a spectacular whale watch this afternoon aboard the Aurora! On the southern end of the bank, we came across an insane feeding frenzy.

Sundown open-mouth feeding

Birds and blufin tuna!

Scattered across the area, there were a number of distinct feeding groups which were made obvious by large congregations of birds and white splashing at the water’s surface. These groups were not made up of just whales but rather all different types of animals feeding together. From what we could tell, these animals included many different bird species, bluefin tuna, humpbacks, dolphins and even a fin whale! Sand lance were of course the target fish and there were plenty to go around. I have never seen so many different animals feeding on one bait ball.


Sundown's head

As far as whales go, there were about fifteen humpbacks spread out across the area. Most of these whales were either solo or in groups of two. We first spent some time with Midnight and her calf who were bubble net feeding! It was unclear whether this calf was participating or just along for the ride. These coming days will be the last the calf will spend with its mom before they separate and make their way back down to the breeding grounds for the winter.

Sundown kick feeding

Sundown diving

Sundown open-mouth feeding

We then went on to Sundown who was displaying really exciting kick-feeding behavior! Since every humpback has their own sort of style of kick-feeding, it’s always really cool to see a new whale kick-feed for the first time and learn how they do things. Sundown uses a single, high-raised and swift kick to the surface in one fluid motion before diving in a loop, blowing bubbles and surfacing with a large open mouth (see photo)! Check out those sand lance trying to escape! One is even stuck in her baleen. Looks like someone needs to floss! We got to watch her as she repeatedly exhibited this fascinating feeding behavior right next to the boat!

We then moved on to two old-timers, Salt and Colt, who were bubble-net feeding together along with a slew of other aforementioned animals. You could tell that this was not Salt and Colt’s first rodeo. This duo seemed to follow the tuna hopping from bait ball to bait ball as the hoard of animals repeatedly conquered various schools of sand lance.

Towards the end of the whale watch, we also spotted two solo calves who may have just separated from their mothers. One of these young whales was Milkweed’s calf whom we saw with his mother earlier this week. It’s possible that his mother was nearby, but we did not spot her. The second calf we saw only from afar and could not recognize.

Finally, the bird activity out on the bank today was absolutely incredible! We saw thousands of birds including northern gannets, lots of different species of gulls, Cory’s and great shearwaters. Hopefully this exciting activity will continue through the late fall!

Tasia

10/8/14

2014 Sightings | October 8

Today’s whale watch was an exciting one! Luckily the seas today calmed down a bit and we were able to head out towards the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. When we arrived, we found the scattered blows of 10-12 humpbacks kick and bubble feeding, a fin whale, and also several minke whales. With all the activity, we had so much to choose from! It was also great to see so many seabirds out there around the whales, including juvenile gulls, northern gannets, cory’s, and great shearwaters. We also spotted some white-winged scoters on the way out.

Salt open-mouth feeding — You can really appreciate her age and size in this photo!

Sundown kick feeding


We first decided to spend time with humpback whale Sundown, who was exhibiting an excellent display of kick feeding (see photo). Each time Sundown would come up, this whale would surprise us with its sideways tail kick, as if it was doing a “cartwheel”. Sundown would then create a large spiral bubble net and come up with a big open mouth in the middle, while many gulls and shearwaters swarmed around trying to get some leftover sand lance. Also, while we were watching Sundown, a large fin whale traveled by! We also spotted 3 minke whales scattered in the area, making it a three species day.

Pinch breach kick-feeding

Sundown was being a bit sporadic in its surfacings, so we decided to head to another whale in the area, Pinch, who was doing some exciting breach feeding! Pinch would come up and do a chin slap on the surface, creating enough momentum to then have its tail kick afterwards (see photo of Pinch kicking). Afterwards, this whale would surface in a bubble net filtering low in the water (see photo).

Pinch filtering

As if that wasn’t enough action, suddenly SALT came and joined up with Pinch in some bubble feeding (see photo of Salt’s famous dorsal, and why she is named Salt). It’s always exciting to see Salt, but I must say I had my coolest interaction with Salt today as she came up with a HUGE open mouth alongside Pinch (see photo above).

Salt's dorsal fin

Salt quickly left Pinch and continued to travel out of the area, as if she just came by to “mooch” off Pinch. I’ve observed Salt do this before, and as an estimated 60 year-old whale with 13 calves in her lifetime, she certainly has probably learned to mooch easily to her advantage!

We wrapped up the trip watching both Pinch and Sundown continue to kick and breach feed in a similar area. On our last looks, Sundown joined briefly with Pinch – perhaps Pinch was being “mooched” again. There are many hypotheses of certain feeding situations as to whether humpbacks are feeding cooperatively or perhaps “stealing” from one another, so today was a good example of that debate!

A spectacular day and one of my favorite trips this fall!

— Laura

10/6/14

2014 Sightings | October 6

Today on board the Aurora, we headed down to the SW Corner of Stellwagen Bank! There was lots of activity spread out over the area today. Luckily, we were able to find a nice big group of humpback whales!

Large group of whales

This group consisted of Nile and her 2014 calf, Milkweed and her 2014 calf, Bayou and Canine. For most of the trip, the adults took about 5 minute dives and were likely feeding beneath the surface. As the adults fed, the calves spent some time together at the surface and were a bit more independent.

Milkweed and her calf

Now that the calves are likely about 9-10 months old, they are growing slightly apart from their mothers and are more commonly seen separated from their mothers! Hopefully we will see them again next season, completely independent from their mothers, successfully surviving around Stellwagen Bank.

Nile's fluke

For our last looks, the calves and the adults re-joined in one massive group right along the side of our boat! It was a great way to end the trip, or so we thought. On the way home we saw another lone humpback whale as well as a pod of 5-10 Atlantic white-sided dolphins. It was a great day out on the bank. Hopefully this nicer weather holds up for a while!

— Annie

10/5/14

2014 Sightings | October 5

After a 5-day stretch of not being out on the water due to rough sea conditions – it was great to get back on the water Sunday!

Mola mola

On Sunday 10/5, we headed the SW corner of Stellwagen in hopes that the whales would still be there – and when we arrived we were excited to see several blows scattered through the area! We first passed by the grand dame Salt, who has appeared to have weaned her calf early this season (her calf Epsom has been sighted on its own elsewhere). Early weaning can happen on occasion, and with a veteran like Salt, I’m sure she has gotten the calf-rearing down pat!

Wizard's calf

Wizard

We did however spot a calf rolling and flippering in the distance, and it turned out to be Wizard and her calf! (see photos). Wizard and her calf then began traveling throughout the area, and her calf was fluking very nicely today. They also appeared to be foraging- at one point later in the trip we observed a bubble cloud forming right as they surfaced to breathe.

Mola mola, so close!

One of the most exciting parts of our trips today was a look at huge Ocean Sunfish, or Mola mola, right next to our boat! (see photos). I hadn’t had a great mola mola look for quite some time this season, so I very much enjoyed this up-close look of the largest bony-fish that weighs about 2000 pounds on average.

While offshore we also spotted humpback whale Canine, as well as a few other individuals that were too far to ID. Also our Stellwagen Seabird Stewards, who come aboard to research the seabirds we see on our trips, spotted many birds today in their count – including Northern Gannets, Cory’s & Great Shearwaters, Black Backed gulls, and White-Winged Scoters.

Great day back on the water!

— Laura

***

We were very excited to get back out there on the water today! We went to the southwest corner of the bank this afternoon and, before even arriving, we saw dozens maybe even hundreds of northern gannets swarming over the surface of the water. Right beneath them was a pod of 20 to 30 Atlantic white-sided dolphins! I Prior to today, I hadn’t seen dolphins since the spring time making this feeding frenzy a welcomed sight.

Wizard and calf

Wizard's blow hole

Wizard's fluke

As we moved on and approached the bank, we noticed at least five different humpback whales in the area. We chose to spend our whale watch with Wizard and her calf! Wizard was making about four-minute dives while her calf spent most of the time logging at the surface of the water. Both whales treated guests with incredibly close approaches to the boat. At one point, they were so close to the that I couldn’t even see them from up top on the center of the cat walk! Overall, it was a beautiful day on the water!

Tasia

9/29/14

2014 Sightings | September 29

This afternoon we headed up to Jeffrey’s Ledge in search of whales. Just as we were passing Thatcher’s Island we spotted to blows just a quarter of a mile to our right. These whales turned out to be Orbit and Slingshot.

Valley's fluke

This pair of humpbacks was traveling together at the surface, probably doing some subsurface feeding after diving down. It was easy to tell these two whales apart at the surface because Slingshot has some very white scarring along it’s back and dorsal fin. This could possibly be from an entanglement.

Valley's tailstock

Eventually, we saw a couple of different blows in the distance so we decided to see what else was in the area. It turned out to be another pair of humpbacks, this time it was Valley and Sickle. I recognized Valley almost immediately due to her lack of dorsal fin.

Valley and Sickle dorsal fins (or lack thereof)

These two were traveling very slowly at the surface. Whenever Valley would take a dive, she would fluke almost in slow motion. It looked like a lot of effort to bring her thick tail-stock into the air. This pair was great to watch, and with our last looks they started moving close to our boat! They travelled slowly right off our starboard side. There was another humpback sighted in the distance at the end of the trip, but we had to head back to Boston. Looks like Jeffrey’s Ledge has been a popular spot recently!

— Annie G

9/28/14

2014 Sightings | September 28

This morning we headed about 42 miles Southeast to the eastern edge of Stellwagen Bank! After searching around quite a bit we found a minke whale. After watching this minke for a little bit, we were able to get some looks at a humpback whale in the area. We really lucked out this trip because the humpback turned out to be, the one and only, COLT!

Cold wows passengers with a swim by

Colt is a famous whale on Stellwagen for being a particularly curious whale and today was no exception! Our first look at Colt was literally right along the side of our boat! The whale ducked underneath and then surfaced again on the other side.

Curious Colt

Every time this whale was up at the surface, we had no problem finding it because it surfaced SO close! It was an extremely unique experience spending time with this very curious humpback!

Rainbow blow by Colt

This afternoon we decided to go to an area a bit closer to Boston. We ended up travelling along the north shore up to Jeffrey’s Ledge. While in this area there were 5-6 humpbacks. We spent time with Nike, Slingshot and Gladiator, which are all whales that I have never seen before!

Gladiator
Slingshot
Nike

It’s great adding new flukes to my memory! These whales were joining and splitting quite a bit in the beginning of our trip, but by the end we spent most of our time with Gladiator and Slingshot who were taking relatively short 3-4 minute dives moving around randomly, likely subsurface feeding.


We had a gorgeous day out on the water with nearly, flat-calm seas, clear skies and awesome whales!

— Annie G.

***

Today on board the Asteria for the 12pm whale watch we traveled to the northern portion of Stellwagen Bank. On our way to the bank we had multiple quick sightings of some minke whales and even a Mola mola (or ocean sunfish).

Mola mola | Photo from 9-27-14

With no luck on the bank, we traveled out past Thacher’s Island to continue our search for whales. After some solid searching, Kirsten, our Research and Education Intern on board, spotted a blow in the distance. We got closer to observe this humpback whale and quickly recognized it as Orbit.

Hazy view of Twin Lights

We haven’t seen this familiar humpback since the beginning of our season. She was taking some long 9-10 minute dives and fluking consistently. Towards the end of our time with her, she began doing some shorter 4 minute dives which was nice, especially for passengers.

Orbit's fluke

Orbit's dorsal fin

Also off in the distance, about ½ mile away, we spotted 2 more humpbacks. It was Pleats and Nike! This pair was also taking some longer dives, 5-8 minutes, and fluking consistently. After leaving the bank, on our way home, we had a quick sighting of a pair of finback whales that were traveling together. Overall, it was a great trip on the bank.

Today was my last trip for this season, so I’d like to give a quick shout out and thank you to everyone who made this whale season so enjoyable. Thanks and have a great rest of the season!

Until next year — Hannah P