Whale Watch Log: July 2, 2016

Today we joined with Captain Deb on the Asteria for both the 11am and 3pm excursions, and our exploits were rewarded with jovial visitations from the youngest of our humpback whales! 

An exemplary pull breach
The first experience of the 11am trip was of an association of four whales including Tornado, Twine, and both of their boisterous calves. Twine’s 2016 Calf took haste for our vessel and declared its mighty presence with head breaches, tail breaches, and even a chin breach! During one pull breach this wondrous creature revealed a red fishing lure nestled in a ventral pleat, indicative of the hazards whales face when sharing their habitat with less conscientious species. 

Look for the lure right of the flipper
Twine's calf's chin breach
While Twine’s calf confidently frolicked away from mother’s reach, we noticed Venom’s 2016 Calf accompany the progeny of Tornado, displaying the social fluidity of the species.  This morning excursion ended with two traveling associations, one consisting of Cajun, Jabiru, Bolide, and Venom, while a second association of Flock and Bowline demonstrated their continued preference for one another!
Chin breach
Tail slap
Our 3pm return to seas south of Midbank brought us into an amphitheater  of whales new and old, and the stage was lit again by the younger generation!  While Deb granted us a close and cautious encounter with Bristle and Pele, we took note of a miniature humpback whale following in Eruption’s stead.  This inquisitive creature was soon to engage us in rolling and flipper slapping while rolling to expose the ventral flanks of its corduroy belly! 

Bristle's fluke

We re-sighted Tornado’s association with Twine and respective calves, and at one point they joined with the association of Cajun, Jabiru, Bolide, and the Venom duo!  Bonus sightings of Flock, Bowline, Othello, and 15BH123 were available to those with sharp eyes off our stern. 

Calf closeup
We ended this visceral celebration with yet another calf who encroached upon our port to prohibit any attempts of return to the terrestrial realm, and this bold creature even managed to reverse itself from the immobile Asteria with thrusts of its pectoral flippers! Calves don’t look so small when you can look down their blowholes!

— Rich


Whale Watch Log: June 30, 2016

Today's whale watch treated us to some spectacular displays of bubble net feeding! 

The whales put on a clinic for bubble feeding
We traveled to the middle of the bank, north of the SEC to find a group of 7 that formed consisting of Venom and calf, Music and calf, Crisscross, Mend, and an unknown from last season. The great visibility allowed us to really appreciate the spiral blast pattern from the group (see photo above) – where usually one whale from the group makes the net and others corral prey as they all move upward. Venom would always surface first, doing a long bout of “dragging” (i.e. filtering water out of her mouth at the surface) followed by a head thrust (see photo). We would then watch as the other adults in the group would come up, some rolling around as they did.

Venom head thrust

The whale whoever that stole most of our attention was Venom’s 2016 calf – who was making bubble blasts of its own (see photo). It’s hard to interpret this type of behavior, but it could be a curious/milling behavior while the adults were down, or perhaps it was even practicing making bubbles, following the behavior of its feeding mother. 

Venom's calf give bubble blasts a try
What amused me was that Venom’s calf would make these bubbles usually right before the group’s net would appear – misleading us to where the adults would come up feeding.

Curious calf

Music and Venom’s calves were also pretty curious, approaching our boat a few times while the adults were down. What was also interesting about the calves was by the end of our trip, they seemed to be participating in the feeding net too.

Great day on the water! One of my favorites this season for sure!

— Laura Howes


Whale Watch Log: June 29, 2016

This morning on board the Sanctuary with Captain Adam we headed out through the shipping lanes towards the middle of Stellwagen Bank. With clouds overhead, we worried about possibility of precipitation, but luckily you couldn’t rain on the whale parade today! 

Venom calf breach

Our first encounter with whales involved Cajun, a humongous humpback, taking a dive right under the boat! Cajun was spotted all over the place today, floating between different groups of whales all throughout the area. We spent some time with Crisscross, Mend, Mostaza and her 2016 calf, Venom and her 2016 calf. 

While the adults were busy feeding below the surface, Venom’s calf would stroll over to hang out with the excited passengers on board our vessel! This energetic calf even breached a couple times which is always surprising and exciting! This calf may be getting a reputation for being particularly loveable this season, because this whale continued to WOW us with close-up looks!

What a breach!
This afternoon on the Sanctuary with Captain Dave we headed out east to Mid-bank where we were treated to some pretty epic humpbacks! This morning the forecast threatened thunderstorms, but instead we were treated to clear skies and a load of awesome whales! We started off with a juvenile humpback who was tail-slapping up a storm!

Venom's calf's fluke
This whale tail slapped for many minutes, threw in a few tail throws and flipper slaps and then finally pooped! After the whale’s fecal plume dissipated, the whale took a dive and we decided to move on. We spotted Venom, Venom’s 16 Calf, Perseid, Cajun, Mostaza and Mostaza’s 16 Calf. After a little while, Venom’s very curious calf paid us a call and came over to check us out. The adults split up a bit leaving us with Perseid, Venom and Calf.

Close approach by calf
It didn’t take long for us to lose focus of the adults in the area because Venom’s calf and another calf decided to spend the last 15 minutes of our trip holding us hostage! Between intermittent breaches, the calves milled around on both sides of the boat, swimming around close to the pulpits, blowing snarge on the passengers. In the distance we noticed some surface activity from some of the adults in the area who congregated close together. Eventually the calves moved far enough away for us to, as Captain Dave put it “make a getaway.”

What a great day!

— Annie 


Whale Watch Log: June 26, 2016

Today on the Aurora we had a splendid day out in the Sanctuary for Get Into Your Sanctuary weekend!

So many breaches today!

But first, our 11am trip was filled with mom’s and calves – our first sighting was of Tornado and her 2016 calf. This young calf started off our trip with a few tail breaches, while mom Tornado spent time below the surface. 

Tornado and calf
After some nice looks of this pair, we then decided to move to another pair we were observing in the distance. Our second mom/calf pair was Mars, a female veteran to the area, and her 2016 calf. Mars is known for her distinctive fluke – which unfortunately was deformed from a past entanglement in fishing gear.

Unbelievable breaching

On our 3pm trip, we headed out to a similar area, this time to find a lone humpback. As I often tell passengers, sometimes one humpback is all you need for a spectacular trip, and this whale didn’t disappoint! As we spotted some distance splashes from a humpback breaching, we arrived closer to find Boomerang’s 2012 calf, who treated us to a complete hour-plus of breaching activity! 

Flipper slap
But the breaches stole the show!
Today tops one of trips with the most breaching I’ve had in the past few years – which included multiple full spinning-head breaches, half breaches, chin slaps, lobtailing, belly-up lobtailing, tail breaches, and even a few flipper slaps! 

Boomerang's calf tail lobbing
It was quite a splashy way for guests to enjoy the wonderful wildlife Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary has to offer!

— Laura Howes


Whale Watch Log: June 25, 2016

Our day with Captain Earl and the crew of the Aurora began with two whales splashing and rolling around- we watched as one chin breached repeatedly as we approached, and soon other whales in the area replied with splashy behaviors of their own. Before long, we were surrounded by whales engaging in all types of behavior. We spent a bit of time with Glo and her calf. Glo, unfortunately, is missing much of the left fluke. Without a report of the incident this whale encountered, we can’t be sure what happened, but she likely had an entanglement or a ship strike. This resilient whale has seemed to heal well, and having a calf is always a sign of good health.

Great look at baleen, note the section of broken baleen

Before long, the activity really ramped up, and we had kick feeding taking place in all directions, near and far. A favorite of mine,   Etch-a-Sketch and her calf were with us for a bit of time, as well as Scratch, Habenero, Lichen, and a few other unknowns. There were a few chin breaches, but one absolutely enormous breach from a whale. A complete hallmark humpback behavior and a sight I can still picture in my mind.

Chin breach by Abrasion
Chin breach
We returned to the dock and got right back out for the afternoon- from looking at the movements these whales have been making, it seems as though they are beginning to make their way south again, as today they were feasting on the sand eels of midbank. This afternoon left me completely stunned. Sometimes we get lucky enough to have a whale surface yards from the boat, or get curious, or kick feed super close- at one point we had all three happening at once! I checked back and passengers were literally standing in the middle of the third deck not knowing which direction to look.

Big splash by Abrasion
The star of the day during both trips was Abrasion. Her method of kick feeding also incorporates a chin breach. She would launch herself out of the water, then as she submerged would smash her tail downward, making a splash that nearly engulfed her entire body (see series). I couldn’t get enough of her. We also had a few calves who became playful and curious while mom ate lunch. A few of the other whales we have identified so far include JT, Ganesh and her calf, Hancock, and Level. Today was absolutely unreal, and the passengers I talked to seemed to really appreciate the rarity and luck of today’s sightings!

Sand lance flee from a humpback's open mouth

— Laura


Whale Watch Log: June 21, 2016

Our Sunday whale watches were the type of trips that we as naturalists live for. 

Wizard's calf breaching
The influx of activity on Stellwagen Bank has brought 60+ humpback whales to the area and a range of other species. As we made it to the eastern edge of the bank on our first trip, we immediately spotted a long line of bubble net and kick feeding whales extending north to south for maybe a mile. 

So many whales!
As Captain Chip slowly maneuvered the boat into the vicinity, we quickly found ourselves enveloped by humpbacks as they corralled large schools of sandlance to the surrounding surface waters. Among these whales included Timberline, Rapier’s 2009 Calf, Lavalier, Rune, Ventisca, Alligator, Landslide, Flock, Greenbean, Pepper, Habenero, as well as three mothers (Dusky, Mars, Entropy), and each of their calves.

Sandlance flee from Music's mouth

Our afternoon brought more feeding and a new round of active calves! Wizard’s calf quickly captured our attention with repetitive breaching (see top photo), while mom fed alongside a humpback named Ursa. Music’s calf also made an appearance on our afternoon whale watch! This young whale paid extra attention to us, checking out the boat while mom fed on her own. Nearby humpbacks included Mayo, Apex, Lavalier, and Ventisca.

Filtering a mouthful
Birds everywhere, even on top of the whales!
By the afternoon, fin whales and minke whales had joined in on the feeding frenzy and were seen feeding alongside hungry humpbacks. Meanwhile, birders enjoyed a bird paradise as we observed throngs of sooty, great, manx, and Cory’s shearwaters partaking in the feast! What a fantastic day on the water!

— Tasia


With a slight shift in wind, there was a bit of a haze over Stellwagen today. Nonetheless, we made our way south and were confident that we would find whales, hopefully in the large numbers that we have been seeing. We began with one juvenile, slowly drifting beneath the surface, likely resting. From there we could see multiple groups of whales, and slowly made our way to each of them.

Whiplash and another humpback

Today’s sightings did not have the multiple groups of kick feeding whales, instead today they were milling around in groups of 3-4, with at least two calves in the area. We watched Bolide, Bowline, and Whiplash, along with Twine and her calf. The calf even became a bit curious and spent much of its time waiting for mom to resurface just off our port side! In addition, we also had a curious young seal come to take a look at the passengers on board.

Curious seal

It was a great day, and so good to see the whales hanging around nearby!

— Laura


Whale Watch Log: June 20, 2016

This morning on board the Asteria with Captain Deb we headed out to the eastern edge and were once again pleasantly BAFFLED by the quantity of feeding humpback whales in the area! 

Flipper slapping
Once we arrived in the area, there were blows every which way and we had our pick of plenty of singles, duos and small groups of humpback whales. It was tricky for myself on the clipboard committee today to keep track of each and every sighting. Focusing on just one group of whales at a time was almost impossible! 

Wave's fluke
Of the many fluke-shots we got we recognized Ventisca and Lavalier travelling together, Pixar and Peninsula together, Jabiru, Cajun and Draco amongst a larger group of 4-5 whales as well as Glo and Wave with their calves respectively. We saw a little bit of everything today. No matter where you looked something exciting was happening whether it be breaching babies, flipper slapping adults, bubble-net feeding, kick feeding or the good-old fashioned fan-favorite fluke up dive, this trip had it all! 

Filtering a mouthful of fish
Big breath
The highlight of today’s trip for me was when a huge bubble-net was formed off the port side. A group of 5 whales emerged from the bubble-net and swam right alongside the boat! It was a blustery day on the water and we certainly noticed whenever we were downwind of whale breath because it had quite the odor!

Fantastic whales today!

— Annie and Rich


Whale Watch Log: June 18, 2016

Today was a day full of hungry humpbacks! 

Open-mouth humpback

On both our morning and afternoon trips on board the Aurora with Captain Earl we headed through the bank WAY out past the SE Corner. This long voyage built up the suspense and excitement of our passengers, but once we arrived on the bank we were graced with the presence of copious amounts of kick-feeding humpback whales! 
Diving down for more
That baleen though
After yesterday’s sparse sightings, I was completely surprised to find that there were so many whales actively feeding in the area today. It’s amazing how things can change so dramatically overnight! Throughout both trips we spotted Echo and her 2016 calf, Timberline, Apex, Landslide, Apostrophe, Tau and so many more that I still need to ID! 

Kick feeder with a chin slap
We enjoyed viewing the varying kick-feeding strategies exhibited by the different humpback whales in the area today. One whale would kick things off with a speedy chin-slap and subsequent arch of the back which was always very dramatic. Others focused more on their tail flicks, but each bout of kicking and thrashing always had the end result of wide open mouths and plenty of baleen! The food of choice today appeared to be sandlance and it was just about everywhere!

Can’t wait for tomorrow!

— Annie


Whale Watch Log: June 14, 2016

Yesterday’s 12pm trip marked my first whale watch aboard the Aurora with Captain Jeff, and our trip was unreal!

Hungry hungry sei whale

It wasn't long after leaving the harbor that we began spotting huge patches of bait fish splashing around at the surface. We made our way to midbank, and we're seeing a few birds here and there but it took a bit to finally see a blow miles away to our south. All of a sudden, we found ourselves surrounded by shearwaters, Wilson's storm petrels, and gulls, and came upon a basking shark, minke whale, and a fin whale all at once!

We approached the fin whale, and suddenly it turned on its side, evidenced by a glance at the fluke breaking the surface. This whale zigged and zagged its way around the bank foraging for fish. At one point it surface just underneath the starboard bow, and I thought the day couldn't get better. Was I wrong!
Mouth agape, side lunging sei whale
Side lunge
Underside of the Sei whale's jaw
We had spotted a few other blows in the distance, and I noticed that one wasn't too far away. As I tried to figure out the species, I noticed it seemed to be bobbing up and down, almost looking like a giant seal. I had a feeling right away, and I called down to Captain Jeff to ask if we could check out what I was thinking was a sei whale. We approached and it broke the surface again, and then rolled over, mouth agape and baleen clearly visible, and I couldn't believe my eyes. I have been waiting years to see a sei whale, always missing them by a day or two!

Sei whale baleen
Sei whale swimming with mouth closed
After some phenomenal looks at this rare sight, we continued on to find another fin whale who was doing a bit of traveling, and 'ended' our trip with our humpback neighbor Shuffleboard. There was more! As I was walking through the cabin talking to passengers, the boat stopped suddenly and Jeff hopped on the speakers to alert passengers of a basking shark that breached three times! Most passengers had enough time to glimpse the fourth breach before we finally made it back to Boston.

— Laura


Whale Watch Log: June 13, 2016

Today, our 2pm whale watch aboard the Sanctuary with Captain Adam left Long Wharf with high hopes of whale activity! Once arriving at the mid-portion of the bank, we realized we had been greatly rewarded with scattered baleen whales in every direction. First we spent time with a pair of finbacks that were traveling quickly north. We had a pop up sighting of a minke too! 

Hancock filtering
Next we moved about 1 mile south and found 2 unassociated humpbacks. It was Hancock and Shuffleboard! First we spent time with Hancock, who repeatedly blew big bubble nets and surfaced with a mouthful of fish. 

Shuffleboard's flipper

Next we saw Shuffleboard, who was also bubble net feeding. She was a bit more curious of us and briefly approached the boat once to check us out. Many passengers were able to achieve the difficult task of the Whale Selfie during today’s trip, as Shuffleboard stretched her big flipper out of the water close off our port side. 

Hancock's fluke
Hancock's fluke flip!

Overall, it was a fantastic trip on Stellwagen Bank!!

— Hannah