8/19/14

2014 Sightings | August 19

This morning aboard the Asteria, we headed down to the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank where there has been an abundance of activity over the past few days. As we could’ve expected, Mudskipper and her calf were in the mix along with Freckles.

Mudskipper and calf

Freckles spent most of her time making about 3 minute dives, likely subsurface feeding. Nearby, Mudskipper and her calf were making longer dives, about 7 minutes in length. Each time they surfaced a small bubble cloud also surfaced about 30 yards behind them, a definite sign of subsurface feeding. I was somewhat surprised to see Mudskipper’s calf accompanying her mom on each of these relatively long dives. Mudskipper’s calf is still feeding on her mother’s milk and most likely not actively feeding but I’m sure she’s learning a lot from her mom with each feeding dive. After 3 or 4 long dives, her calf decided to stay at the surface to catch a breath. I thought maybe the little one was hoping to rest after those dives but this calf had something else in mind!

Talk about front row seats!

Body surfing in the self-made wave

So close! The captains use special precautions when the whales approach the boat like this.

Out of nowhere, Mudskipper’s calf breached high up out of the water with an enormous splash! The calf then rode its own wave towards our boat and dove beneath us and again appeared with an incredible breach! I don’t know if I have ever seen a whale breach so near to the boat! It was absolutely incredible!

While watching the calf mill at the surface following the breaches, another unknown humpback in the area started heading our way and a couple fin whales swam by. We also watched some awesome bird activity throughout our exciting whale watch!

Lots of seabird activity

There were tons of different tern species, adult and juvenile. The terns were incredibly noisy throughout the entirety of our whale watch, competing for fish and, on a number of occasions, being harassed by some jaegers. One of the jaegers doing the majority of the harassment I believe to have been a juvenile parasitic jaeger. As usual, we saw a variety shearwaters including great, Sooty’s and Cory’s. Finally, there was a little tiny yellow song bird that seemed to have lost its way. It looked tired and maybe was looking for a place to rest but unfortunately it lost us when we cruised away as we moved on to Mudskipper and her calf. Hopefully this little bird finds its way to land!

— Tasia

***


Today on the noon whale watch on board the Aurora, we found ourselves just south of the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank near Provincetown. There we found two fin whales, three humpbacks, and between seven and nine minke whales!

Calm seas and great looks at whales

Large fin whale

We first spent time with a large fin whale that had a fresh injury near its dorsal fin. The calm sea conditions allowed us to have a breath-taking view of the entirety of this enormous animal, and we were able to watch its powerful tailstock propelling this beautiful animal as it travelled alongside the boat. We left this animal to check out the humpback whales in the area and were treated to some great surfacing from Mogul, a full grown male whale, who was doing some subsurface bubble feeding.

Minke whales traveling together

While watching Mogul we noticed some activity a ways off our bow and spotted four minke whales that were traveling and consistently surfacing together, this wasn’t the only sighting of associated minke whales today, we also spotted a pair of minke whales traveling together as well!

Mother and calf

In the time that we were watching Mogul, we were  joined by Mudskipper and her calf. This pair didn’t join with Mogul but they did stay near him which may mean that Mudskipper was feeding on the same prey as Mogul. The calf spent a lot of time right next to mom, taking long dives along with her. Early in the season the calves can’t hold their breath as long and usually stay at the surface while the adults take deeper and longer dives but these calves are growing and have to learn how to find and capture food because they will be out on  their own in just a few months. A few of our passengers also spotted a blue shark in today’s calm water. It was a great day on the water for sure.

— Tegan and Kirsten

8/15/14

2014 Sightings | Special video!

It's not every day that we get to share a video on the Whale Watch Log—especially something this beautiful! Here's a look at a recent whale watch adventure, shot during a trip on August 8.

   

The whales you see in this video are Cajun, Komodo and Samara. Thanks to DronePros.net and Boston Harbor Cruises for sharing this exciting perspective of these amazing wild animals.

8/14/14

2014 Sightings | August 14

On today’s 12pm whale watch aboard the Aurora, luckily the seas began to calm a bit down, and we were able to head to the SW corner of Stellwagen. We first got a great look at a large Ocean Sunfish (scientific name Mola mola)! (see photo). Ocean Sunfish are the heaviest boney fish species, easily weighing about 2000 pounds at times!

Abrasion, note the scarring on the tail stock

Fjord the finwhale and a petrel 

Abrasion and Rocker open mouthed

Abrasion's calf's fluke

Abrasion kick feeding

Mola mola!

We didn’t find much else on the corner, so we headed a little more north towards mid-bank, where we found some splashing in the distance, which turned out to be Anvil and her 2014 calf! This is our first sighting of the pair this season. Anvil did some great high kick feeding (see photo), where she then would follow up with a bubble net and then come up filtering at the surface. Anvil’s calf followed nearby, perhaps observing her kickfeeding technique. Her calf also fluked quite nicely for us (see photo).

We started seeing more blows and splashes in the distance, so we headed further on. We first found a fin whale who we ID’ed as Fjord – he is a male fin whale, more readily identifiable by the large nick in his dorsal fin (see photo).  You can definitely appreciate his size with the small petrel in the foreground!

Amongst the scattered blows, we came upon a group of two humpbacks, Rocker and Abrasion. Abrasion is a female who gets her name from the scar on her caudal peduncle/tail stock (see photo). Rocker is a male humpback, known often for his tail-kicking displays. These two were working together to feed, and we got a great look at both of their mouths WIDE open from a distance (see photo). These whales can easily open their mouths 90 degrees, which is apparent in the photo!

Our total sightings were 8-11 humpbacks, 2 fin whales, 5 minkes, and an ocean sunfish. We also had a ton of seabird life, including many shearwaters! It was great see so much life out there today – perhaps the storm stirred up some bait!

— Laura

***

This afternoon we had an amazing turn of events. Luckily the 12:00 whale watch had some new sightings just north of the southwest corner. We headed in that direction and were amazed with the amount of activity in the area! Throughout the trip we spotted about 10 humpbacks as well as 3-4 minke whales and 4 finbacks. It has been quite some time since we have seen this much activity on the bank and Kayleigh and I were so excited to have such a polar-opposite whale watch compared to our morning trip with no sightings!

Rocker close to boat

Once we started seeing activity, we were unsure where to start so we scanned the horizon to decide which whales were closest. Suddenly in the midst of us discussing our game plan in the wheelhouse, a bubble net formed right off of our port pulpit! Our decision was made for us!

Abrasion open-mouthed

We spent a lot of our trip with Rocker and Abrasion who were doing some awesome open-mouth feeding at the surface. Passengers got many great looks at the baleen that hangs from the whale’s upper jaw as well as the tubercles or stove bolts that are found on the whale’s face.

Open mouth with shearwaters flying

Later in the trip, we decided to check out some other whales in the area and we found Anvil and calf! We didn’t see much of these two, Anvil did not appear to be actively feeding. We spent the remainder of our awesome whale watch with Abrasion and Rocker once again. These two had no problem approaching the boat, giving passengers amazing looks the entire trip.  There were tons and tons of birds in the area today, including shearwaters, northern gannets, laughing gulls and more, gobbling up all the fish that were scared up to the surface by these massive whales! It was an amazing trip and I can’t wait to go out again this weekend!

— Annie G.

8/12/14

2014 Sightings | August 12

Today on the 10am whale watch we began by heading south towards the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. Although visibility was at its best and we could see ten miles into the distance we didn’t find any whale in this area. However, the bird activity was simply phenomenal with sightings of various shearwater species and a few northern gannets with beautiful adult plumage.

Shuffleboard kick feeding

But since we were on a whale watch we decided to go find some whales. We travelled in a northerly direction and slowed to allow for maximum spotting opportunity. After only several minutes scanning the horizon, our eyes caught sight of a dark shape in the water. We finished playing our game of whale spotting with our humpback, Shuffleboard! Shuffleboard was showing signs of feeding by both blowing bubbles, surfacing and diving quickly, and making sharp turns.

After a few close to boat encounters including a brief bout of kick feeding, Shuffleboard began to travel deliberately south. We assume this means that Shuffleboard ingested all the food in the area and was searching for more. During this traveling dives, Shuffleboard stayed under the water for 5-7 minutes and would surface a significant distance from the boat. We kept up but eventually had to head home saying goodbye to Shuffleboard for the day.

— Tegan and Haylee

***

Today on board the Aurora we headed southeast of Boston in search of whales. Our lovely intern, Grace, spotted a few blows way out in the distance at our 3:00 position. We headed over there and found two scattered humpback whales!

Shuffleboard

Waterfall streams off a fluke

First, we spent some time with Shuffleboard who was taking beautiful fluking dives! We also noticed another whale about a quarter of a mile from Shuffleboard up at the surface a few times. This individual surprised us with an awesome full breach! We left Shuffleboard to investigate this new individual and it turned out to be Freckles!

Freckles

Freckles took nice 4 minute dives and moved pretty quickly when she was up at the surface! A minke whale joined the party  at one point as well! After a while of watching Freckles, we noticed a pair of blows out a mile or two in the distance.

Finback whale

We headed over there to find a pair of massive finback whales making today a 3-species day! These two were associated and continually came back up to the surface together as they traveled east. It was a very productive day out on the water!

—Annie G.

***

Today was an absolutely beautiful day for whale watching with unlimited visibility! After cruising out to Stellwagen Bank this morning, we found Shuffleboard, a humpback whale bubble cloud feeding! While we couldn’t actually see Shuffleboard lunging for fish, the green cloud of bubbles that preceded each surfacing indicated what was going on beneath the water’s surface.

Shuffleboard

We also had a very special and rare treat on our morning whale watch! At one point while we were waiting for Shuffleboard to surface, passengers started pointing excitedly towards the water right below the starboard pulpit. As the subject made its way towards midship, I watched as a sea turtle dove about 8 feet below the surface and swam towards our stern. Unfortunately, the turtle was too deep for me to determine its species but the passengers and I were super excited at this unusual sight. It’s not unusual for sea turtles to be in these waters but they are only here in late summer and are quite small and difficult to see which make them a rarity on a whale watch. This was in fact the first sea turtle I have ever seen while out on a whale watch which made the trip extra special!

Freckles

This afternoon on our 1:30 trip, the southwest corner was teeming with life. The first whale we saw was a female humpback named Freckles who came very close to the boat and gave us beautiful views of her fluke. While there were no obvious bubbles throughout our watching Freckles, she spent a lot of time underwater and was likely subsurface feeding. It seems like her source of food drew a number of different individuals into the area including a minke whale who swam about 100 yards off our bow and a couple fin whales that we spotted about a mile west of us.

Freckles

As Tegan mentioned, mature Northern Gannets are starting to visit Stellwagen Bank again likely returning from nesting grounds in Quebec and Newfoundland. They are a beautiful and welcome addition to the variety of bird species we’ve been seeing out on the bank. We also saw a number of different shearwater species and a surprisingly large number of laughing gulls! Overall, we had a great day on the water!

— Tasia

8/11/14

2014 Sightings | August 11

This morning on the 9am whale watch onboard the Cetacea it was a gorgeous to be out on the water. The past few days have seen very low humpback whale sightings so our captain decided to travel out to the northwest corner and then travel down the bank in search of whatever might be out there.

Shuffleboard

The clear conditions made this a perfect plan and near mid bank we spotted our first whale. This turned out to be a humpback engaged in some bubble feeding – always a good sign! We identified this animal as Grackle from the smattering of white on his all black fluke. While watching Grackle we spotted another humpback doing some surface activity, breaching and tail lobbing, not far away and decided to go investigate.

Shuffleboard feeding

This turned out to be Shuffleboard who was also doing some bubble feeding. At one point Shuffleboard surprised us with a huge tail breach! Other than whales we spotted quite a lot of life on the bank including huge amounts of birds, mainly shearwaters, and a great sighting of a harbor seal.

One of Shuffleboard's huge breach

On the 1:30 trip we headed out towards mid-Bank in search of the whales from earlier in the day. We heard a report of a whale from another boat and went over to take a look. This whale had gone down for a dive and we were waiting for it to come up when we were surprised by a huge breach!

Breaching bonanza

For the next half hour straight we were treated the humpback, Shuffleboard, breaching and flipper slapping! It was an incredible and moving sight and an amazing opportunity for photographs. The reasons why whales breach are mysterious and while there are lots of theories including to communicate, to get rid of parasites, or maybe even just for fun, we really don’t know the reason and it is a hard behavior to predict, especially the repeated breaching we got to see today!

What a spectacle!

Whatever reason Shuffleboard was breaching, it was amazing to be there to witness it.

— Tegan and Kayleigh

***

Today on board the Asteria we headed to the south where the Cetacea had sightings of at least two humpbacks. On our way, we encountered two minke whales who spent a few minutes up at the surface.  The last minke whale was pretty shy but after we had passed it breached!

Minke whale

When we arrived in the area where the Cetacea was getting in their last looks we spent some time with a whale that turned out to be Shuffleboard. Shuffleboard was taking 5-7 minute dives and surfacing for only a few breaths but gave passengers a great look at his/her fluke.

Shuffleboard

While we were waiting for Shuffleboard to surface another minke decided to make an appearance. This whale stayed with us for around 20 minutes, surfaced multiple times-while showing its rostrum-and even turned over underneath the right pulpit. I’ve never seen a minke whale get that close to the boat and stay that active-so much so that I could even use that moment to talk to passengers about countershading! This minke also spent a lot of time changing direction and surfacing in the middle of rafts of shearwaters.

Grackle

After the minke activity slowed, we travelled to where there were to humpback whales in the distance.  By the time we make it over to the humpbacks they had separated but we were able to identify one of the pair as Grackle, a male born in 1997.  Grackle was taking 5-10 minute dives and spending little time on the surface.  We got a couple of good looks at him before having to head home!

Shearwater

All in all a wonderful day-the minke whale activity was incredible!

— Annie

***

Today on board the Aurora for the 12pm whale watch we traveled out toward the middle of Stellwagen Bank. Luckily the 10am Whale watch found whales, so we traveled to the location that they shared with us.

Mogul's fluke

We found ourselves in the middle of the bank, in the shipping lane where we came across three scattered humpbacks! We spent the majority of our trip with a humpback named Mogul. He was taking 3-8 minute dives and showing us his tail on each dive.

Mogul

Toward the end of the trip Mogul started to pick up some speed and began to travel south. The two other whales in the area were a distance away and traveling further away, so we stuck with Mogul. Although in the distance we saw one of the individuals take a dive and quickly snapped a photo of its fluke. It was Shuffleboard! It is a great to know that we have some humpbacks back on the bank.

— Hannah Pittore

8/10/14

2014 Sightings | August 10

Today on the 10 a.m. aboard the Aurora we started out heading towards mid-bank.  Though we had number of gulls, shearwaters, and juvenile gannets we came across only two minke whales.  The first surfaced a couple of times, headed towards the boat, and then once we slowed down turned around and started heading away from us.

Cetacea on flat-calm seas—perfect for whale watching!

On today’s 3pm trip on the Salacia we headed to where the Cetacea had sightings of a single humpback.  Within an hour we had spotted Freckles.  Freckles was taking 5-7 minute dives and making frequent changes in direction.

Freckles

Luckily, Freckles was taking a few minutes at the surface each time she came up for air and fluked for every single dive. At one point she did come up with a mouth full of water however this was the only time we had confirmed feeding behavior from her. Additionally, there was a lot of bait in the area giving passengers a great look at what Freckles might have been looking for!

— Annie W., Rich, and Grace

***

For the 1:30 trip, we got some great news from our 12pm whale watch that there was a humpback whale sighting just east of Scituate. We made our way out to that area and while traveling we spotted a blue shark! We then found that lone humpback, Freckles.

Freckles at surface

She was taking short 3-5 minute dives and we even witnessed some bubble clouds!

Freckles

While with Freckles, we had a quick sighting of a minke whale. Just as we were leaving Freckles, we had ANOTHER sighting of a different blue shark! It was near perfect conditions on the water today, which made spotting for sharks that much easier.

— Hannah and Kirsten

***

Today on board the Asteria we travelled southeast from Boston in hopes of finding whales. Unfortunately the earlier trips found only a few whales, but we really lucked out this afternoon just about 8 miles SSE from Minot’s Lighthouse where we were surprised to sight a lone humpback whale named Freckles!



Freckles—see the specks on her dorsal fin?

While most whales are named based on the features on the underside of their tails, Freckles is probably named because of the speckles that appear on her dorsal fin. Freckles was taking 3-5 minute dives and travelling all over the place!

Freckles

Captain Joe was on his toes the entire trip trying to keep up with the erratic surfacings of this foraging humpback whale! We were so relieved to have such great looks at a humpback whale so close to Boston!

Picture-perfect Freckles

This evening we headed out to the same area. We spent our trip with Freckles once again! Throughout the trip she was taking short 2-4 minute dives and was even doing some bubble cloud feeding! It’s great to know that even in an area far from Stellwagen Bank that there is enough fish in the water to sustain this humpback whale! We had beautiful looks at Freckles as she travelled through the sunset.

Sunset over Boston. Whoa.

Check out the cool picture I got of the massive orange sun setting behind Boston. In the foreground you can even see the light shining through Minot’s Lighthouse! It was a lovely evening for a whale watch. On the return trip not only did we get to watch a beautiful sunset, but also we were lucky enough to see the super-est of supermoons!

Superest of super moons!

— Annie G.

8/9/14

2014 Sightings | August 9

This morning on board the Cetacea we began our search towards the middle of Stellwagen Bank. During our search, we communicated with other whale watch captains who were searching further North. Unfortunately, we both were coming up short. We decided to turn towards the SW Corner of Stellwagen. Luckily, because of the great visibility today, we were able to spot the tall, column-shaped blows of a pair of finbacks. The area was jam-packed with not only fishing gear, but also lots of fishing boats and of course at least 100 tons of finback whale (finback whales can weigh 50-60 tons each)!

Enormous finback whale

Seabird taking flight

Once we got a little bit closer to these two animals, I saw something that I never thought I would see before…a finwhale pectoral flipper! I was a bit stunned by this and failed to make a big deal out of it in fear that my eyes were playing tricks on me (I lacked a photo to prove it)! On the return trip a nice fellow was happy to show me a photo that he got of this strange phenomenon and I was overjoyed! Throughout the trip, this pair of finwhales continued to constantly change direction and resurface rather quickly. They were likely actively feeding. There were tons of birds in the area this morning following these two feeding finbacks around including many varieties of shearwaters and gulls! It was a great trip!

Pilgrim monument

This afternoon we ended up whale watching just a mile off of Racepoint Beach in Cape Cod! Aside from a brief look at a minke whale, we spent most of our time with massive finback whale (a different individual from our morning trip). This whale was likely feeding and changed direction very frequently. There were a few nice surprises throughout our trip as well. First of all there were quite a few seals in the area!

Gray seal

We saw 3-4 gray seals and even a couple of harbor seals! They were popping up left and right this afternoon and it was very easy to spot them on the glassy water! Another great surprise was that there were a few dolphins making their way through the area! Captain Tim has a very keen eye and spotted them about a half-mile away. Unfortunately there was too much boat traffic in the area to get a good look and determine the species, but it was nice to know that this area around the tip of Cape Cod is so productive. It was a unique trip and was definitely worth the trip.

Annie G.

***

This morning of the 10am whale watch we headed south after hearing that the boats up north had come up empty handed. Near the southwest corner we picked up a fin whale that was taking long dives and travelling north, not the direction we wanted to go, so we continued on to the southwest corner. Once there we found several fin whales in the area and spent most of our trip with a pair of fins that were taking slow 3-4 minute dives and spending a lot of time at the surface.

Close-up look at a finwhale's beak

We don’t often get to see fin whales as up close as we did today so it was certainly a special treat. Fin whales are the second largest species of whale in the world and the largest that we see on Stellwagen Bank. They have a much more streamlined body design than our usual humpbacks which allows them to get up to high speeds which is why we sometimes refer to them as the greyhounds of the sea. \

Chevron pattern

The close looks especially allowed us to see the unique patterning that fin whales have which we call the ‘chevron’, a swirl of darker grey and tan pigment located over their shoulder blade which we can also use to identify individual whales. We also got to see the lovely long rostrum or head of the fin whale which some researchers say looks a bit like a duck’s bill and the interesting splash of white that fin whales have along the right side of their bottom jaw. It was an especially special trip with these whales.

Beach day!

On the 3pm trip we again headed south but this time headed even further south along the beach at Race Point. It was a special opportunity for me to actually have some scenery in the back of some of my photos! In this area we found four fin whales and a number of grey seals. The fin whales were moving a lot more this afternoon and dive times were more erratic as was the direction of travel. We spent most of our time with two fin whales which spent about an hour associated with each other consistently surfacing and travelling together. We use the unique patterning of the chevron patter on fin whales to identify individuals but getting the photographs and being able to recognize these patterns is very challenging so we typically rely on other unique marks, usually scars, to identify individual fin whales.

Propeller scarring on a finwhale's back

Some of this scaring, especially on the dorsal fin, can be natural but many more are from human impacts. After reviewing my photographs I noticed that one of the whales we watched most the trip has a very prominent series of parallel scars that look to be from a boat’s propeller. This type of scar is incredibly recognizable but are a sad reminder of our impact on these animals. There were also a lot of seabirds in the area, especially a large number of Manx shearwaters which are the first I’ve seen in a month or so! I also was very excited to spot a jaeger, a type of seabird, that harasses other birds into dropping the food it has caught. It was only the second time I’ve seen one but I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo!

— Tegan

***

Finback whale

Today was a full day out on the water.  For the 12:00 trip on the Aurora, Earl brought us close to the shores of Provincetown and the south eastern side of the bank.  We saw about three minke whales and a few fin whales in the area. We had two amazingly close looks at a fin whale along our port side and a minke whale who crossed our bow and surprised passengers!

Gray seal checkin' folks out

Then we had a very curious juvenile harbor seal who saw our boat from a distance and instantly headed directly towards us to take a look at everyone. This was close-to-boat behavior at its finest and the harbor seal tried to engage with passengers, to the point where everyone was so entertained with this little seal that they stopped watching the whales! This was definitely the highlight of the trip and the best seal interaction I have ever had.

Curious gray seal

For the 5:30 whale watch we had reports of a handful of fin whales about a mile off of Provincetown, so we headed back down south.  We found 2 separate pairs of fin whales and at least 6 harbor seals in the area. The seals were very entertaining as well, but not quite as curious as the juvenile from our previous trip.

Fast-moving fin whales

At one point we were about a half-mile off of Race Point and we could see people on land!  The fin whales were traveling and difficult to follow. We also saw some minke whales during the trip that passengers were great at pointing out! We then had an exciting report of over 100 dolphins past the lighthouse going into PTown. We rounded the bend and sure enough there were North Atlantic white-sided dolphins everywhere!  Some were jumping out of the water in groups and others will milling, but moving very quickly!

Dolphins and Provincetown

We were also able to spot some calves in a nursery within the group. It was absolutely the most beautiful site to have the dolphins jumping into the sunset around the Provincetown Monument. And thanks to our captain Earl, it was one of most memorable experiences whale watching thus far!

—Laura