6/25/16

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

6/21/16

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.

Closeup
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

6/20/16

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

6/18/16

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

6/14/16

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

6/13/16

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

6/12/16

Whale Watch Log: June 12, 2016

Sounds like there were all kinds of amazing things going on in the sanctuary today!  Aboard the our vessel Sanctuary with Captain Earl we were thankfully no exception. Our first trip took us to the southeast corner of the bank off of Cape Cod where we first got in some looks at a fin whale that was being a bit elusive, so we continued eastward based on the reports of a couple other boats in the area.  What was really wonderful to see (aside from our whales) was the huge amounts of BAIT in the water!  We got an up close look at lots of sand lance all congregating at the surface at one point.  Naturally there were also a ton of birds around, so all really encouraging signs that things are picking up again!

Fin whale charging

Out east we found not one but TWO fin whales making some white water and enjoying the bounty of fish in the area.  They did a couple of bouts of feeding, turning on their sides so we could see their flukes (see photo!) and generally charging very forcefully through the water.  

Fin flukes
Active fin whales
Fin whale and basking shark
At one point we were right alongside both of these whales as they swam very purposefully toward another area teaming with fish, birds, and at least one other whale.  While we were waiting for them to come back from their dives, our intern Taylor spotted a dorsal fin in the water of what turned out to be a huge basking shark!  This shark stayed up alongside us at the surface for about ten to fifteen minutes, at one point right alongside the boat so everyone could get some fantastic looks at this incredible animal.  We also had the shark and both whales right off the bow together!

Huge basking shark
Close-up view of this gentle, filter-feeding shark
For our second trip we headed toward mid bank hoping to pick up Shuffleboard as reported by the 12 PM trip.  We stopped for a few minutes on another fin whale that was being very low profile in the water and even displaying what might have been logging or resting behavior.  This whale also proved to be taking longer dives and coming up farther away, so we pressed on and were able to locate Shuffleboard, who helped us out by displaying some behavior that caused lots of whitewater (maybe a breach?).  When we caught up with her she was doing some awesome bubble net feeding and we even got a couple glimpses of her open mouth, and she graciously showed us her fluke once when she went down for a dive.  She also at one point breached to our right, perhaps because of the building seas. We were luckily able to get some great looks at her before the wind really picked up and the sea conditions deteriorated quickly. A big thanks to Captain Earl for getting us home safely, our crew for helping out, and our hardy passengers for sticking out those wishy-washy seas!

— Heidi and Taylor

***

Today aboard the Cetacea was an unusual experience. Captain Jim and I agreed to start upon Midbank along an excursion that would eventually bring us just north of Provincetown. A large belch of bubbles ascended across our bow, causing us to halt and observe massive bait balls throughout the vicinity.

Minke breach

We cautiously accelerated and a minke suddenly breached at a distance of 500’! This individual breached four more times and then vanished in an instant, typical for this meek baleen species.
















We continued on a lengthy eastern journey and covered the Southwest Corner without a blow in sight. As we passed north of Provincetown three powerful blows were thrust skyward, and we were pleased to observe a fin whale informally dubbed 16BP18 as it plowed the surface with an unknown accomplice!

Fin whale
16PB18

The duo huddled in synchronicity while a third dove without any further sighting. After mighty close looks our conglomerate headed west for a lengthy return home, and the waters were teaming with brown shoals of visible sandlance! The air was primed with anticipation as this was a prime opportunity for any apex predator to feed.

Basking shark


Our wheelhouse noticed two brown spades of cartilage pass through the surf, and found ourselves upon a basking shark 20-25’ in length! A large scar of alabaster color decorated the creature between the dorsal and caudal fins; clearly this was a survivor of a boat strike or other significant trauma. This was a fine finale of unexpected grandeur, and we left the peaceful behemoth amongst thousands of fishy cousins.

Our travels far and wide yielded no humpbacks, but this strange Atlantic behavior will forever make roost in my memories!

— Rich

6/11/16

Whale Watch Log: June 11, 2016

This morning for the 11am whale watch the Asteria headed out with Captain Deb and crew to the southern part of Stellwagen Bank in perfect flat sea conditions. The glassy waters meant we were even able to spot  minke whale a few miles away for a surprise sighting just out of Boston. After this great start to our trip we continued on to Stellwagen where the surface was awash with areas of bait. These patches would move and ripple like they were themselves some huge animal. 

The lovely Shuffleboard investigates the vessel

We started the trip with the lovely Shuffleboard who was traveling between bait patches and would blow bubble clouds but was mainly feeding well below the surface. While Shuffleboard was below the surface the fish would jump and you could tell that Shuffleboard was feeding on them. The best moment of the trip came when Shuffleboard decided to stop feeding and seemed to investigate our vessel. We got awesome looks as she hung below the surface just beside us and even swam slowly below the bow. Soon it was time to head home but luckily for us a second humpback whale, Hancock, was on the way so we stopped to watch her below huge circles of bubbles and lunge up through them. We finished our morning out on Stellwagen Bank with one our favorite things of all time, a nice sighting of some whale poop. Just like on land, studying poop or scat to be more proper, is a great way to learn more about what animals do and about their health. Hancock’s large brown poop is a great indicator that she’s eating a large amount of fish and could also be used to study important biological indicators like hormones. That poop is also packed full of important nutrients that get recycled back up to the surface waters where organisms can use it. Whale poop really is awesome stuff.

Filtering food
The 2pm whale watched headed out into a flat Massachusetts Bay with an increasing southerly wind, which made it much chillier than the morning. We headed south of the southwest corner just off the edge of Stellwagen Bank where we found humpback whales, Hancock and Shuffleboard, feeding and traveling together. These whales have been in the same general vicinity as each other for the past week but they’ve been rarely observed associating. The two whales surfaced together displaying feeding lunges a few times but mainly were just diving and traveling randomly. At one point the whale surfaced heading in different directions (very normal for social groups to split up) but Shuffleboard seemed to turn around and hurry to join back up with Hancock. However they didn’t seem to join again and after an underwater collision that we watch with the aid of their bright white pectoral fins Hancock shot off in a different direction and we stayed to watch Shuffleboard who decided to check out the boat, just hanging below the surface, before displaying some awesome lobtailing and tail breaching behavior. Whenever you get to watch these acrobatic displays even if its just a couple of minutes is extremely special. We left Shuffleboard behind not long after this and she’d returned to deep diving potentially searching out dense schools of fish. Once again is was an awesome day on the water with these special animals.

— Tegan

6/10/16

Whale Watch Log: June 10, 2016

Today’s trip aboard the Cetacea was just fantastic! We made our way out under sunny skies on calm seas to the area with previous reports of feeding whales. As we approached the southwest corner, we spotted multiple blows in the distance and spent a few minutes deicing on which whale to begin with. Captain Dave spotted a lunge feeding fin whale, and we stopped to see if we could keep up with it. Before long, however we noticed two lunge humpbacks becoming quite active at the surface, and moved closer to check them out.

Shuffleboard and Hancock lunge 

We started with some great looks at our familiar friend, Hancock, as she fed just at the surface. She would come up just as the water would turn the familiar shade of lime green from the enormous bubble nets she created. As we waited for her to resurface, we could see and hear the schools of fish skipping at the very top of the water column. We also noticed a second humpback moving in to Hancock’s feeding area, and were absolutely shocked when the two of them erupted upward together in a huge display of open mouth feeding (see photo above). 

Fish fly
Shuffleboard feeding
Luckily Hancock had just dove off the same side of the boat, so most passengers had a front row view! Shuffleboard (the second whale) then sounded a pair or trumpet blows, and Hancock swam off. It was interesting to see the dynamic between the two- Hancock moved quite far from the area, while Shuffleboard began circling around her new spot.

Shuffleboard lunge

Over and over Shuffleboard gave us amazing displays of her power. Each surfacing seemed to be faster and more powerful than the last, until we finally ran out of time and began to make our way back to Boston. It was a day we won’t forget for a long time!

— Laura