2013 Season | July 31

We saw as many as nine whales today. We spotted some finbacks and minkes in the distance, but chose to check out the humpback that we spotted. It was our old friend Pinball. She was surfacing close to the boat so passengers could hear her blow and see her long pectoral flippers. We also spotted another humpback, Satula. As soon as we stopped to see Satula, he went down on a dive, but as we were waiting we spotted an odd looking dorsal fin in the water. It was a basking shark! 

Basking shark

It was great to see this large toothless shark hanging near the surface while we waited for Satula. Satula was averaging 3-5 min dive times and even left us a couple fishy colored gifts at the surface when he dove. Also we had reports that Nile was nearby. It was an amazing 4 species trip!

Scar on a finback whale, possibly from a ship strike

One trip found four different fin whales in the same area. They were constantly popping up on all sides of us, giving us some incredible looks. Several times one of the whales surfaced feet off of our side which shocked all the passengers on board. The water was crystal clear so we were able to follow them when they were just below the surface. One of our fin whales surfaced with extended throat pleats that were accommodating for all the fish and water it had in its mouth. Another of our fin whales had a rather large white and pink scar on its back. It looked like it might be from a recent ship strike injury. While this was a sad thing to see, it also showed passengers how resilient these giants can be.


2013 Sightings | July 29

This morning we headed out to the northwest corner of Stellwagen to find THICK fog. However, we looked diligently in the area we had been seeing whales recently and first spotted at small school of bluefin tuna; some breached near the boat! The seas were calm so we were able to see smaller species quite well, including a blue shark next to the boat! This built up the excitement among passengers, despite the limited visibility.  

Fulcrum and her calf

We heard from another boat of a humpback in the area, and we found Fulcrum traveling with another, much smaller whale. After getting some nice looks at the mother/calf pair, we moved on to see Nile who was also in the area!  On the way to Nile, a minke whale popped up right next to the port side stern.  

Fulcrum is a female born in 1997 to Chimney. Fulcrum’s dorsal was seriously injured years ago by a small boat propeller. While we know her for the scaring on her dorsal fin, she actually has a very beautiful fluke pattern as well. 

Fulcrum and her calf

Based on the size difference, we surmised the other whale traveling with Fulcrum must be her calf! A very great look at a mother calf pair out on the bank. This would be the third calf for Fulcrum that we know about. We then left the pair and had a look at Nile who was doing some bubble feeding in the area as well. Passengers got great looks at all three whales and we even spotted a minke whale in the distance as well.

Fulcrum's calf


2013 Sightings | July 20

This morning Nile was deep feeding, changing direction and moving around quite quickly. We shared looks with a couple other whale watch boats in the area but were able to get good looks at her surfacing multiple times right near the boat. 

As always, Nile was fluking consistently and she was even doing a bit of bubble feeding. Passengers saw plenty of northern gannets (both brown juveniles and clean white adults) and even witnessed one of these pelagic birds dive. It was a bit windy out there on the bank, but I heard no complaints (free AC).

Nile going down on a dive: You can get a really good look at the scar on her peduncle from a previous entanglement.  That gave passengers a first-hand look at the damage entanglement in fishing gear can cause.
 This afternoon we headed down to the same spot. The weather couldn’t have been more different than the morning, wind and big waves and a huge thunderstorm threatening. Once again, Nile was taking quick trips to the surface, only staying up for a breath or two. She surfaced right next to the boat at one point and gave the passengers a great look. We even had an exciting trip home, going through a large thunderstorm out on the water!

In this photo, you can only see a tiny bit of Nile’s right dorsal side.  Whale watch boats don’t need to see Nile’s fluke to recognize her at this point.  We’ve seen her enough lately to know the distinct hooked or curved dorsal fin on her back and that it tilts to the right.  Nile has a white scar on the right side of her dorsal fin as well. Another distinguishing mark on this side of the whale is the dimple-like scar that is from a previous satellite tag.


2013 Sightings | July 16

Today we spotted a few minke whales darting through the water in the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. Finally we found a humpback whale and it turned out to be out old friend Nile! She was deep feeding taking moderate length dives. Passengers got some amazing looks as she came up to breathe. In particular the conditions were perfect to see her huge white pectoral fins glowing green under the water. We also got a very close look at a grey seal.

Grey seal

During another trip today, we headed to the southwest corner of Stellwagen after hearing some reports of whale activity. We found a finback and we were able to observe the whale deep feeding.

Aurora passengers observe a finback whale

A deep-feeding finback whale prepares to dive

The calm seas and sunny weather made it a great day for good pictures and a comfortable ride. We even had a woman on board who said it was her dream to see a whale and was ecstatic to get to see Nile.


2013 Sightings | July 12

Lots to report over the past couple days! Here's a round-up of some of our sightings on the bank.

July 9: We headed out and came into some very thick fog. After searching and listening for whales, the fog cleared and we sighted Nile in the distance. As we approached she actually displayed some wonderful full body breaches. She lifted almost her whole body vertically out of the water before crashing down. That afternoon we also managed to catch a glimpse of a grey seal as we left the area. A great treat for the passengers to see two marine mammal species.

Grey seal
July 10: Nile took a dive right in front of our boat, causing lots of ooo’s and ahhh’s from our passengers. She continued to surface with bubbles and water pouring out of her mouth over and over again. It must have been a great day for surprise close encounters because when we headed home, we had a minke surface just in front of us. Both of our whales gave people a day out on the water that they would never forget!

Our passengers soaking up a close look at Nile 

This perspective really gives you a great reference point to gauge just how large these animals are.

July 11: We traveled to the northern edge of Stellwagen Bank where we found two minke whales. At one point during the trip, one of the minke whales got quite close to the boat. Passengers got a great look at the distinct white patches on the minke’s pectoral flippers, better known as minke mittens. The white patches give off a green glow underwater due to the abundance of phytoplankton in the ocean. Passengers were also treated to five different species of seabirds out on the bank today: greater shearwaters, Wilson’s storm petrels, Northern gannets, herring gulls and black-backed gulls. 

July 12: We found two fin whales about a mile off of Provincetown today. One of the whale swam right next to our boat and FLUKED! I had just finished telling passengers that fin whales do not fluke (or bring their tails up out of the water) when it took a dive and lifted its tail out of the water. I have never been so happy to be proven wrong. Our captain even said that in 30 years he has never seen a fin whale do that! We also saw two seals and a minke whale breach three times in the distance on the way home, but nothing compared to the amazing looks that our fin whale gave us. 


2013 Sightings | July 8

We enjoyed a four-species day on the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank today! First, we found a very cooperative finback whale, deep feeding and cruising slowly at the surface near the boat. There was also a grey seal spotted in the area around the finback. On the way back to Boston we spotted a different finback whale and a minke.

But the humpback whale sighting stole the show. We found Nile as she was demonstrating textbook deep feeding. On one surface, however, she lunged out of the water and slapped her chin on the water, then she did a series of full breaches right next to the boat!

Nile's breach

Nile's impressive splash

This was one of the best trips I’ve been on this year!


2013 Sightings | July 7

We had an unexpected passenger join us on board while out on the bank—a brown booby! It landed up on the third deck near the catwalk and stayed on the third deck for the remainder of our trip back to Boston.

Brown booby

Passengers loved getting a close look at this unusual guest. The Environmental Police ended up coming to check up on this unusual visitor as it did not leave the boat overnight. But the bird had flown and hopefully it's migrating back to its more tropical location. It’s quite rare to see one of these on the New England coast! [Aquarium researchers spotted a brown booby in Belize, in fact! There are also sightings of other booby species among all the seabirds on the PIPA Blog.]

Our unexpected visitor resting on deck 

Another shot of our brown booby visitor

With all the hot weather during the long holiday weekend, we've had to share the whales with other whale watchers this weekend. But fortunately, we have been treated to some great looks at Nile doing her typical routine of short dives these past couple days.

A special treat was catching up with her during one recent evening trip, where flat calm waters made it easy to see her and her exhalation.

Nile’s perfectly shaped spout and a lingering ‘footprint’ behind her


2013 Sightings | July 4

Today the boats made their way through the packed harbor and headed to the Southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. On our way to the bank, some of the boats spotted a couple different species of note. There was an elusive minke who took a quick dive and went out of sight. One group was lucky to find a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. The pod looked to consist of 10 to 20 individuals!

Nile feeding on Stellwagen

But the main event was Nile on Stellwagen Bank. This 26 year-old female humpback whale was doing short dives and showing her tail on almost every dive. We observed her doing subsurface bubble cloud feeding (which may work to scare the bait into a tighter bait ball) amongst laughing and herring gulls and many recreational boaters looking to escape the heat.

Nile’s very hooked dorsal fin, it’s almost as distinctive as her fluke

Nile's fluke
The holiday also meant some special events in Boston Harbor. Besides all the recreational boaters, some passengers also got a chance to see the USS Constitution coming into the harbor. The historic ship was making its yearly trip to Castle Island to celebrate Independence Day. The evening trip also enjoyed great looks at firework displays all up and down the coast of Massachusetts!

USS Constitution on its annual foray into Boston Harbor on July 4