Part II: Whale Watch Season Ahead!

New England Aquarium Whale Watch Season is just a one week away! We'll head out with our partners at Boston Harbor Cruises (BHC) starting March 29! So with that in mind, let's brush up on the sights and cetaceans from last season. This is a cross-post from the Boston Harbor Cruises blog by Laura Howes, Director of Marine Education and Conservation at BHC.  

Passengers get up-close looks at bubble feeding on Stellwagen Bank

Whale posse

Humpbacks, unlike toothed species such as dolphins or killer whales, have loose social bonds and don’t form pods or long-term associations. In feeding grounds, we sometimes see individuals form small groups for a few days, weeks or even a whole season as a strategy to maximize their feeding. Each day out on the water, it was interesting to see this growing group work together in a similar pattern, as if it was becoming a "whale posse," as one our spring interns Tegan joked.

A group of humpback whales surface together in bubble clouds

This all being said, there are often exceptions to the non-long-term association theory (for instance, pairs such Echo and Tectonic have seen many seasons together), proving that there is so much more to learn about humpback associations and their social groups. Perhaps next season we’ll see this whale posse together again!

Cetacean Stars


A few other stars of May included male humpback Rocker (seen kick feeding and tail breaching true to his name) and female 16-year-old humpback Etch-a-Sketch (also grand-calf of the famous oldest known humpback Salt), that was observed doing her unique style of kick/bubble feeding. She's often not shy to do it right next to our whale watch boats!

Etch-A-Sketch puts on a feeding spectacle for passengers

Etch A Sketch

Zeppelin and Fracture were also seen bubble feeding consistently, a pair Captain Chip of the Aurora fondly remembers seeing together in the 90’s during a sparse humpback season on Stellwagen. A few new calves of 2013 included Apex (aka Octave), Buckshot, Pogo and Bungee—Bungee’s second calf in two years! Humpback gestation is about 12 months, so while consecutive births are possible, it’s not very typical.

Zeppelin and Fracture

As if all that excitement wasn’t enough, the month of May ended with a Memorial Day humpback much closer to shore than usual – Boston Harbor! Early in the day, our vessel Salacia spotted a juvenile humpback whale while fueling near Charlestown, and by the time our 10 a.m. whale watch left the dock – this whale was spending time between Deer Island and Spectacle Island.

Humpback in Boston Harbor

While having a whale this close to shore isn’t unheard of, it certainly is an unusual event that drew quite the crowds not only on the water, but also with the media coverage on land! This was also an excellent opportunity to educate the public about proper whale watching guidelines on both whale watch boats and personal recreation boats. While it’s exciting to see a large marine mammal in the water (especially so close to shore!) it’s important to give the animal space and not alter its natural behavior. Luckily, this young humpback appeared to head back to sea by the end of the day, and wasn’t spotted in the harbor after Memorial Day.

After May, things out on Stellwagen had quite the change of pace. Stayed tuned as we look back on 2013 in anticipation of the start of whale watch season starting this Saturday. Be among the first people to check on the whales arriving at Stellagen, buy your tickets for the first trip of the season! 

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