2014 Sightings | Last Whale Watch November 16

Today was our last trip of the season and we all desperately wanted to see one last whale, even if it just was Nile. However once on the southwest corner, aided by outstanding visibility and Captain Tim’s keen eyes, we were confronted by the baleen battalion.

Group feeding with whales and gulls

A humpback surfaces with a mouthful of sandlance

Baleen blazing

Feeding frenzy

The sandlance of Stellwagen can’t wait for the whales to leave. 25-30 individuals were feeding vigorously, churning the ocean surface as they captured millions and millions of the small fish. Those lucky enough to escape the baleen were fallen upon by copious numbers of gulls, shearwaters, and gannets.

We identified 15 of the whales on the corner including Abrasion, Ampersand, Canopy and calf, Dome, Fez, Glo, Hornet, Peninsula, Perseid, Rocker, Snare, Timberline, Wizard and calf. We also spotted a fin whale which quietly swept through the area, seemingly ignoring the more boisterous humpbacks and birds but potentially attracted by the intense feeding activity.

Large fin whale on the move

This was a fantastic way to end the season and can’t wait to get back next spring.

— Tegan, Rich & Jessica


2014 Sightings | November 4

After 3 days of staying ashore due to rough sea conditions, we were finally able to get back on the water. We set out towards the southwest corner aboard the Salacia this afternoon and were delighted to find a humpback whale named Sundown.

Sundown next to boat

Sundown was initially making about 5 minute dives possibly subsurface feeding. Twice she came up within about 10 feet of the boat as we waited idly for her at the surface. The second time she surfaced, she started lob-tailing right off our bow giving guests a fantastic show. Sundown then started traveling south. We stayed with her for a few surfaces until we turned back for Boston.

Sundown off of Provincetown

We sighted thousands of birds out on the water today including surf scoters, white-winged scoters, eiders, cormorants, gannets, loons, great shearwaters and various gull species among others.

White-winged scoters taking flight

There were quite a number of fishing vessels on the southwest corner today, too. Two trawlers which appeared to be cooperatively pair trawling were particularly close to Sundown which gave us a bit of concern (see photo).


While Stellwagen Bank is a national marine sanctuary, fishing is still allowed. Dragging, however, is prohibited. These two trawlers were likely mid-water trawling. Even though these vessels were actively fishing very close to Sundown, they statistically pose much less of a threat to whales than the large amount of fixed gear in Massachusetts Bay. Even so, seeing these active fishing vessels with such large nets in the water reminded us of the many threats these whales face every day.

I wanted to follow up with an recent unknown humpback, whom we have since IDed with the help of folks over at Center for Coastal Studies (thank you!). Our unknown T3 fluke turned out to be that of Boomerang’s 2012 calf.

A recent picture of Boomerangs '12 calf fluke

Boomerang '12 calf from catalog

We were not readily able to ID this whale because the markings on this juvenile’s fluke have changed so drastically. This transformation is typical of juvenile humpbacks. You can see from the fluke photos, one taken in 2012 when the whale was a calf (photo credit to Blue Ocean Society and Center for Coastal Studies 2013 GOM humpback catalog), the other taken Friday, the dramatic changes that have occurred in the markings on this juvenile’s fluke. These changes can make it difficult for the scientific community to recognize and track young whales from year to year.

For this reason, it’s important for us to have (close to) a continuous photographic record of these whales’ flukes as they evolve from season to season. The hard work, collaboration and photo sharing among many organizations throughout Massachusetts Bay and the Gulf of Maine is what allows researchers to track such a large number of whales year after year. As one of the largest whale watching organizations in Massachusetts, we are proud to contribute to this team effort every day.



2014 Sightings | October 28

On today’s whale watch aboard the Asteria, we headed to the SW corner of Stellwagen in search of whales. On the way out, we spotted many birds including common eiders, white-winged scoters, northern gannets, cory’s shearwaters, a manx shearwater, and even a great blue heron!

Canine's fluke among the feathered

When we arrived at the bank, we first found two scattered humpbacks – both of which were elusive and not fluking much, so we decided to head a little further east where we found the scattered blows of 4-5 other humpbacks, and also a fin whale.

Porky great shearwaters

Amongst the whales were TONS of great shearwaters today, many of which seemed pretty plump from a summer of good feeding. It was great to see these birds fluttering around the whales today! When we first approached, we found a foraging fin whale (do a behavior called “circling” – where the whale circles in an arc around its prey below the surface) and also humpback whale Canine subsurface feeding near the fin whale.


Canine is one of my favorite whales from my former whale watching time up in Bar Harbor – the 2004 calf of Siphon. I always enjoy seeing this whale when it passes through Stellwagen. Our intern Jessica also spotted a minke whale in the mix, making it a three species day!

Canine's right dorsal

We wrapped up the trip with some great looks of Canine, who began to bubble feeding right near our boat! It was a great end to this windy but enjoyable late October day on the water.

— Laura


2014 Sightings | October 26

We started out with clear skies and choppy seas as we headed out to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary this morning in search of whales. As we approached the southern part of the sanctuary off Provincetown, we had a plethora of bird sightings in the area, including Northern Gannets, Great and Cory’s Shearwater, and our bird data collector volunteers from the sanctuary even spotted a sooty shearwater! Fall is a great time for seeing different bird species as everything begins to mix it up for the changing seasons.

As there was quite a bit of wind offshore today we had our work cut out for us searching for whales amongst white caps – talk about a needle in a haystack! We did happen to see a few blows in the distance before coming up on a humpback whale that was being very elusive.  We only got a couple of looks at this individual before we noticed some splashing by another animal in the distance.

Palette's fluke

Our active whale turned out to be Palette, although unfortunately she did not continue her surface activity beyond those first couple of looks.  We experienced some high waves as we tried to get some looks at Palatte, who only did a full fluking dive for us twice (see photos).  Luckily we were able to grab a few good looks despite the waves and her erratic behavior.

Palette's dive



This afternoon on the Asteria we decided to travel up to the Northwest Corner to see what we could find. Lately we have been traveling south in search of whales, but because of the rough sea conditions reported on the southern edge of Stellwagen, we decided to try our luck elsewhere. The winds were very strong today which made it tricky to search because white caps can often be mistaken for blows. As we searched the Northwest Corner, there was a very high abundance of Northern Gannets flying every which way. The sight of birds heightened our spirits because the presence of birds is commonly associated with the presence of whales.

Coral's fluke

Freckles' fluke

Freckles' dorsal fin from the right

We persevered though the high winds and choppy water and managed to find two adult humpbacks, Freckles and Coral! This pair was taking 5-8 minute dives and were likely subsurface feeding. Passengers did a great job helping us spot for the whales ahead and behind us which was tricky today because of the sea conditions. The passengers were particularly enthusiastic today as well which always makes a trip extra special. It was an adventure out on the water today and it was great to see Freckles and Coral who we haven’t seen around here since the summer! I’m curious about where in particular they spent their time feeding when they weren’t on Stellwagen Bank.

— Annie G


2014 Sightings | October 25

After a few days of rough seas, we were so happy to head out to Stellwagen on this beautiful Saturday. We started our search around mid-bank and then turned south towards the southwest corner.


We spotted a whale in the distance and approached it slowly. This whale turned out to be a very elusive finback whale. After the whale surfaced far in the distance, we decided to continue a bit further to a few other blows in the area.

Warrior's fluke

There were 7 humpbacks in the area today and we spent the bulk of our trip watching a trio including Warrior, Mars, and Spike. We were amused by the combined ferocity of names today because Mars is the Roman God of war! These three were taking about 5 minute dives and surfaced several times close to the boat. Towards the end of our trip, the group surfaced on the starboard side, travelled across the bow and then gave then passengers super close looks as they continued to swim along the port side. It felt like we were being circled by these humpbacks. Perhaps they were curious of our presence!

Note the white entanglement scars

One of the humpbacks, Mars, has a pretty mangled fluke. It appears as though this individual has been entangled at least once before. Around the tailstock there is deep scar, and around the left fluke there is a bunch of scar tissue and a hunk missing from the trailing edge.

Unknown whale fluke

There was plenty of fishing gear in the area today to remind us that entanglements are all too common an occurrence. Either way, it was a beautiful day out on the water and we’re happy to see some new individuals in the area!

— Annie G


Later on the 12:00 whale watch we had our first wildlife sighting right by the South Boston Fish Pier, a harbor seal. We had left the dock only a few minutes prior and we stopped to give passengers a great look at this little creature. We saw a second near Spectacle Island as well.

Mars' troubling entanglement scars
Learn about recent right whale entanglement from Aquarium researchers

We traveled out to the southwest corner of Stellwagen and found a handful of blows in the area.  We followed Rattan and Treasure, two humpbacks not commonly seen on trips, and they were a little elusive today. We saw the pair fluking on each of their dives and it was great to see the difference in the coloration of their flukes.

Rattan's fluke

Then we moved towards Provincetown and got great close looks at Spike, Moray/Warrior, and Mars crossing our bow. They were surfacing more readily than Rattan and Treasure, and Mars lifted her tail high into the air next to our bow and waved it around at passengers. It was a beautiful day out on the water and we were able to see a number of different pelagic bird species, including Northern Gannets, Manx and Greater Shearwaters, and Eiders.

— Laura Cupicha


2014 Sightings | October 21

Yesterday’s whale watch aboard the Asteria was another spectacular one!

Baja breach

The wind and waves held off yesterday as we traveled to the SW corner to find three humpbacks, Baja and her 2014 calf, and another female humpback, Sundown. There was also a TON of bird activity including many shearwaters, gulls, and diving gannets amongst the feeding whales (see photo of Sundown and birds).

Sundown and bird frenzy

We started out watching Baja spiral bubble net feed, and filter and “drag” at the surface while the birds followed. Baja’s calf seemed to be practicing bubble feeding too – a few times the calf blew bubbles and came up fluking, after mom did her own feeding, as if mimicking what it saw. It’s hard to interpret such behaviors, but hopefully Baja’s calf is learning some important feeding techniques it will use on its own next season.

Sundown kick feeding

While Baja was bubble feeding, Sundown also grabbed our attention with repeated kick & bubble net feeding throughout the entire trip. Sundown would make big splashes, and each time she’d come up to kick, the force would turn her body upside down and at times we would even see her flipper.

Baja breach
Baja breach, part 2

As if this all wasn’t enough, after a brief rest, Baja and her calf suddenly surprised with synchronized full breaches followed by synchronized chin slaps! Baja initially breached first followed by her calf breaching, then the pair began chin slapping, with the calf leading this time.

Baja's head breach

We were treated with another big breach from the pair before we headed home.

— Laura


2014 Sightings | October 20

We had a fantastic trip on the Asteria today!

Mola mola

On our way to the southwest corner of Stellwagen, we passed a large Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) drifting at the surface. We also passed a quick traveling pod of possible harbor porpoise.

Palette breach

When we arrived at the bank, we found scattered blows of 5-7 humpbacks, and 1-2 minkes in the area. While we searched around to approach the first humpback, our first looks started out with a bang as female humpback Palette surprised us with a full spinning head breach! After this she began to travel in a linear direction, towards a pair of humpbacks that turned out to be Baja and her 2014 calf.

Baja feeding, see the gull with the sand lance in the background

Baja gave us quite the treat yesterday as she blew big spiral bubble net blasts alongside our boat, while her calf swam around the outside of the nets. After she would surface in the middle of the bubble cloud with a big open mouth, she would filter at the surface awhile (a behavior we call “dragging”) for several moments, giving us great looks at her baleen, as well as the gulls stealing some sand lance leftovers. It was exciting to see her baleen plates up close!

Palette head breach

Palette kick feeding

In the midst of this feeding, Palette surfaced next to us again as if to steal the thunder back – and began to breach/kick feed! Palette would at first slam her head at the surface with a big splash (see photo), followed by a tail kick. A few moments, later, she would then surface sideways amidst a big spiral bubble net. She did this repeatedly the rest of the trip, and it was fun to see her interesting feeding technique. She also appears to be well fed and she seems very plump in her photos!

Palette pretty much held boat “hostage” as she kept feeding next to our boat for the rest of the trip. Whenever the whales come this close to the boat to feed is always a treat, as we don’t try to approach the whales that closely ourselves in accordance to whale watching guidelines.

Fin whale

As if all of this weren’t enough, a third whale species of the day, a large fin whale, passed by at the end of the trip. We also had a fourth humpback who was kick feeding travel by– if I identify by its dorsal fin I will update the sightings for today’s trip.

— Laura


2014 Sightings | October 19

We had a breachtastic whale watch out on Stellwagen Bank this morning! The seas were high and the ride was a little bumpy, but we spotted Thalassa and her calf immediately when this enormous mother jumped clear out of the water creating a powerful splash.

Thalassa erupts from the water

As we cruised on over to investigate, I warned passengers that, while breaching often occurs in bouts, it can often stop as soon as it begins. This duo, however, breached for about half an hour straight! It was as if these whales were one with the sea splashing up into the air with the waves. Palette, another humpback, joined in on this breachingfest right as it was passing our boat!


Thalassa breaching 

There must have been tons of bait in the water. Thousands of birds congregated in large masses feeding in all different areas of the bank. At this particular feeding frenzy, we saw hundreds of diving gannets, Cory’s and great shearwaters plus a flock of white-winged scoters that scattered as Palette breached amidst them.

Palette breaching away scoters

Palette helped these feeding birds out, forcing fish to the surface with a single bubble net. We then watched as Palette slowly filtered out the fish on the surface of the water. There were a number of additional whales spread throughout the area, but the sea conditions made it very difficult to ID or keep track of these others.

No such thing as too many breach pictures

The breaching activity we observed today was truly incredible. Seeing these majestic, 30-ton animals leap clear out of the water is an inspiring sight. Today’s whale watch is definitely one I will never forget!



2014 Sightings | October 18

We had a great whale watch this morning on the Salacia!  Since the whales have been pretty consistent down on the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank, we returned to that area and were not disappointed.

Wizard and calf

We started our trip with Wizard and her calf, who has been a regular during the end of our season. Wizard and calf were apparently taking a break today from all of their rambunctious activities the day before, as we observed them primarily resting, or “logging.” The pair was very slow moving, taking about 6-minute dives and often times just sort of ‘sinking’ down instead of actually fluking.  Luckily we caught a look at her fluke for a positive ID.  Whales ‘sleep’ by resting half of their brain at a time, since they need to be consciously thinking about breathing all the time.

While we were hanging out with Wizard and calf, we spied a couple humpbacks about a mile away that were flipper slapping! We decided to leave Wizard and calf to their afternoon snooze and went over to find a group of four whales together, one of which was another calf.

Flipper slapping

Now usually, calves are the rambunctious ones, but in this instance all of the adults were the ones being active! At one point all three of them had their 15-foot-long flippers high in the air.  I’ve never observed so many adults flipper slapping at the same time!

Buckshot fluke

Salt fluke

Our group of four turned out to be Milkweed and calf, Buckshot, and Salt!  I’m so glad I got to see Salt again one last time this season – also that I got to see her engaging in a surface activity like flipper slapping!  Pretty incredible.


Milkweed seemed to be the ring leader of the flipper slapping, as even after Salt and Buckshot split off on their own, she continued for several more minutes.  Humpbacks also never cease to amaze me with their flexibility – Milkweed did a little bit of contortionism at one point, see the attached photo for a look at her flipper, ventral pleats, and eye as she curves her back while flipper slapping.

Buckshot scar

Salt and Buckshot continued on their own, and we followed them for a while because I wanted to document a new injury on Buckshot.  She unfortunately now has a very large open wound on her back in front of her dorsal fin which is likely the result of a vessel strike. Over 10% of our humpback population is observed with major vessel strike scars. The wound looks to be a few days or a couple weeks old as it seems to be in the process of healing. From observing other whales with fresh scars, we have learned that the healing process can take several weeks to heal over, but can still change for several years after the injury. Hopefully Buckshot will have an easy recovery, and that if she is pregnant she will be able to carry the calf to term. We’ll look forward to seeing her again next year!



We had a fantastic trip this afternoon on the Asteria! We headed out to the southwest corner for our whale watch today. Once we arrived where the whales were last spotted, we immediately saw big splashes in the distance! A pair of humpbacks were breaching while another flipper-slapped. We decided to get a closer look at the flipper-slapper who turned out to be Milkweed.

Milkweed's flipper

Milkweed and her calf were milling about at the surface and rolled around quite a bit throughout the trip, at one point they rolled around in some seaweed. We got extra close looks at Milkweed flippering, so close that some folks on the bow probably were in the splash-zone! After a while, the calf joined in with the flippering as well and even did some tail-slaps.

Milkweed's calf

Our boat became very interesting to these whales for most of the trip and they continued to surface directly next to us, at one point between the pulpits. I’ve never seen such persistent curiosity from a calf.

Milkweed's calf off the bow

We were interested to find out where the breaching pair from the beginning of the trip had gone so we travelled south in search of them. The pair turned out to the Salt and Buckshot. Unfortunately, we noticed Buckshot was suffering from a pretty nasty boat strike wound.

Buckshot with a fresh injury

Hopefully over the next few weeks we will continue to see Buckshot so that we can monitor the healing process of the wound. I’m curious to see if Salt will stick with Buckshot for a while just as Hippocampus was sighted consistently with Northstar who was injured earlier in the season.

As we made our way back to Boston, we were treated with a surprise tail-breach from Sundown who we were able to get some good ID photos of before we had to continue our course back to Boston.

We had an awesome trip!

Annie G