2014 Sightings | April 28

This morning on the Cetacea we headed out to the northwest corner of Stellwagen, Bank which saw a lot of activity over the weekend. Today was no different. We spotted multiple blows in the area and joined a humpback named Hancock, a female born in 1991.


Hancock defies some our whale naming conventions, particularly that we don’t name whales after people or give them names which are distinctly male or female. That is unless there is a distinct pattern reflecting that name. Hancock is named for some loopy white marks on the bottom left of her fluke (not visible in my photo unfortunately!) that sort of look like a signature. So she was named after the most prominent signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Hancock was taking long 10 minute dives but when she did come up we could see the evidence of her feeding: bubbles and some straining. Pepper, another female humpback, came into the same area as Hancock and we thought they might join up to feed but it wasn’t the case. Pepper was one of the very first whales to ever receive a name and she got it because she was seen with Salt a lot that particular year so Salt and Pepper, since then Pepper hasn’t been seen very often with Salt so we learnt not to name whales based on the names of other whales. We got a few more looks at Pepper and had to home back to Boston.



2014 Sightings | April 27

Today on the Asteria we had another great day of whale watching!

Hancock's fluke

On our 10am trip we headed to the NW corner and found two scattered groups of two humpbacks, traveling slowly through the area. We first came upon females Hancock and Shark, who were moving slowly and logging. At first the pair wasn’t fluking, but on our last looks both of them showed us their tail patterns.

Shark's fluke

We then moved onto Victim and her calf, passing a minke whale on the way. This mom and calf were also traveling slow and taking shallow dives. Near the end of our morning trip, the calf began exhibiting some rear behavior/tail rises, and then appeared to be nursing as it swam underneath Victim and bobbed on either side of her.

Cajun, Hancock and Shark resting beside the boat

On our 1:30 trip we headed back to the same area, and this time found a group that joined up of well-known female:s Pepper, Cajun, Hancock, and Shark. Pepper joined this slow-traveling group last – and of the four whales, she didn’t appear to be logging.

Cajun's spout

As Pepper joined the group, she began trumpeting and the whales began to wake up, except for Cajun who lingered in the back of the group and logged at the surface. She also rolled a bit too. Overall we got spectacular looks at this group as they approached our boat closely (see photo of Cajun’s spout) – making it an outstanding afternoon on the water!

Cajun rolling

We also spotted a few harbor seals resting at the surface.
— Laura Howes


2014 Sightings | April 26

We had two fantastic whale watches on board the Asteria today!

Pepper's fluke

After a short ride out to the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank, we saw blows all around us! These whales consisted of just about every specie of whale that we see out on the bank. There were a number of fin whales, minke whales, humpback whales, harbor porpoises and even a small harbor seal that seemed to stay by our side all morning. The humpback whales we spent time with slept right through the whale watch, a behavior referred to as logging. Appearing very much like three logs, these whales floated side by side as they periodically surfaced for air. Between naps, they gave us spectacular looks of their flukes. We were able to ID the trio as Cajun, Shark and Pepper!

Cajun tail lobbing

This afternoon, we again spotted fin and minke whales. The trio of humpbacks had woken up and were quite active. Cajun caught our attention from far away with some flipper slapping. Once we got closer, she flipped on her back and displayed some powerful tail lobbing! Two additional humpbacks that appeared to be juveniles came through the area as well. We spent quite a bit of time with them but were unable to ID them because neither were fluking while diving.

This is the first time Pepper has been spotted on the bank this season! Pepper was notably the second humpback of our population to be named and cataloged back in 1976. Before the Gulf of Maine humpback catalog was what it is today, consisting of hundreds of individuals, first there was Salt and then there was Pepper! Both whales still frequent their familiar feeding ground every spring and summer.

It was amazing to see so many animals out on the water in just one day. The activity today was definitely a sign of a great season to come!

—Tasia, naturalist & pictures


2014 Sightings | April 23

This morning the Aurora headed to the NW corner of Stellwagen. Despite some patchy fog we were able to spot a minke whale, a harbor seal, Northern gannets and a fin whale.

Fin whale

The fin whale gave us great looks of both its sides, and we were able to observe some of its identifying features including its chevron pattern and dorsal fin with a small nick.

Dorsal fin with a small nick

Though the rain picked up, overall we had calm seas and great sightings of three different species of marine mammal!



2014 Sightings | April 21

This morning on the Aurora we headed out towards the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. It was a beautiful day with very good visibility. We spotted a blow in the distance which looked to be a fin whale based on the shape of the blow. As we approached the animal it still appeared to be a fin whale however with the first look at the body is became apparent it wasn’t a fin whale.

It was a skim feeding North Atlantic right whale which proceeded to circle the boat at close range!

Between the intern and myself we managed to take over 250 photographs of the callosities on top of the animal’s head that can be used to identify individual animals which will be sent to researchers at the Aquarium. Seeing a right whale at any distance is a treat however seeing a feeding right whale at close range is a once in a lifetime experience. After the animal moved away and we were able to safely maneuver out of the area we continued our search north but didn’t spot anything else.

It was a truly unforgettable day.

— Tegan


On this morning's whale watch we headed north to Thacher’s Island near Jeffrey’s Ledge in search of whales. Along the way north we spotted common eiders, surf scoters, and a few razorbills.

Once we arrived up north we spotted the blow of a small fin whale, taking moderate dives with minimal surfacings. We were able to get one good look.

Hope everyone had a happy holidays!

— Laura Howes


2014 Sightings | April 13

On the 1:30 whale watch the skies were more clear but the water was getting a little rough. We found a fin whale towards the end of our trip a little more south than the morning trip and got to see it for a handful of surfacings but it was difficult to follow.

Finback whale on Stellwagen Bank

This morning's trip was quiet with scattered showers. We caught a glimpse of a fin whale and a minke whale on the western side of mid-bank that the passengers got to see for a very short amount of time.

Laura Cupicha


2014 Sightings | April 12

Today we had a wonderful afternoon with sunny, beautiful weather. We headed towards mid-bank and spotted a slow traveling fin whale on the western edge of the bank. We stayed on the fin whale the entire time and had great looks on all sides of the boat, with about 5-6 minute dive times and 4-6 breaths per surfacing. There was also a minke whale in the area and it was seen quickly on a couple of occasions.

Not too many birds were in the area today but we got a nice look at a northern gannet as it came across the bow and a few gulls were seen during the trip. It was a nice calm day for whale watching and everyone was very pleased with the trip!

— Laura


2014 Sightings | April 11

UPDATE: On further examination of the images from these sightings, the naturalists have some more information to share. One of the whales has been identified as Sedge! In addition, the scarring is not from an orca attack, rather it's likely from an entanglement with fishing gear. Learn more about the threats facing wild whales—like the endangered right whale. 

This morning on the Salacia we headed towards mid-bank and found three different species of whale.

We had a pair of humpbacks that were feeding in the area. These whales were taking short dives with varying times and were coming up for quick breaths. One of the whales had a sizeable chunk missing from its dorsal fin, probably from an entanglement with fishing gear. The whale with the scarring did fluke multiple times while the second whale was reluctant to fluke. On further inspection of the images, we were able to identify Sedge—seen on both Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank last spring and fall. The other whale has not been identified, but we got some partial fluke pictures.

We got a great look at the end of the trip of one humpbacks flippers under the water. We also had a North Atlantic right whale in the area who was spending more time at the surface and traveling slowly. Finally, we had a minke whale pop up momentarily behind our boat as well as an unidentified blow in the distance. All around it was a great trip with some great looks at two of our large whale species.



2014 Sightings | April 10

On this morning's 10am Whale Watch on the Cetacea, we headed back to where we left the fin whales yesterday. We when arrived, we spotted the blow of a fin, but this animal ended up taking long dives and we did not see it again after the first surfacing. After spending some time waiting for this whale, we decided to head further south the SW corner of the bank, and while we did find two minke whales briefly, we didn’t have any other sightings. Once again, we also saw a good amount of Northern gannets.

We also encountered some of the marine debris during our trip, which we picked up while out on the water. Mylar balloons can be very harmful to marine life, so shout out to our crew for collecting this party favor.

— Laura Howes


2014 Sightings | April 9

Today on the Cetacea we headed south in the direction of some earlier reports of whales, and also to try our luck where we had seen fin whales the other day.

A fin whale near Scituate
About 15 miles southeast of Boston near Scituate, we spotted the blow of a large fin whale, and shortly after we spotted another. At first these whales were sporadic and taking quick dives, so we headed further south for a bit in search of something else. While we did spot a minke whale and possibly the blow of a right whale, we decided to head back to where the fin whales were and ended up having great sea conditions to watch them! We observed one larger adult and a smaller juvenile, both deep feeding and traveling in the same area.

The whale's unique chevron pattern is barely visible in this picture

Also the northern gannets were spectacular today! Several diving gannets feeding around the fin whales, overall making it a great spring day on the water.

A Northern gannet in flight

Laura Howes


2014 Sightings | April 7

We had a great trip on the Cetacea today! We decided to head to the south to see if we could find anything different to the last few days. Not even on to the bank we spotted some activity on the perfectly clear flat waters.

We spotted two animals but stayed off until we were able to identify whether we had humpbacks or right whales (Right whales are critically endangered and federal law requires a 500-yard buffer zone between vessels/people and the whales). In the meantime passengers got some great views of the animals diving and fluking. We moved off and soon found a pair of fin whales.

Pair of fin whales

These two animals gave fantastic views and stayed at the surface for 4-5 minutes after each dive, one even rolled on its side and gave a good look at the ventral pleats! This was definitely a pair. Our last look was of both whales on either side of the boat before they rejoined behind us.

It was a great day out on the water for the beginning of the season.



2014 Sightings | April 6

This afternoon on the Cetacea, we searched along the northwest corner while traveling close to shore in an attempt to cover new ground.

First minke whale makes an appearance

We stopped briefly to get a quick look at a minke whale along the way but continued on towards the bank.

Cormorants in formation

While we unfortunately didn’t see any other whales, we saw some white-winged and surf scoters, cormorants, northern gannets, black-blacked and herring gulls and eiders.

— Tasia and Annie


2014 Sightings | April 4

Today we had an exciting day aboard the Cetacea! We started the morning heading out towards the northwest corner of Stellwagen, but on the way our captain spotted a blow west of the bank. We stuck around for a while in hopes of seeing it again and, while we saw one more blow of the whale, we weren’t able to get any looks of the individual so we moved on to the bank.

Northern gannet

Once we got to the NW corner we didn’t find much marine mammal life, but we did find various seabirds including northern gannets, black-backed gulls and razorbills in winter plumage.

Northern gannet trying to grab a flounder from a gull

We then started heading home with the looks of no whales for the trip, but right as we traveled through Nantasket roads (between Hull and Boston Light) we spotted a juvenile right whale! Passengers, crew, all of the training naturalists onboard and myself were quite excited and surprised to find this young whale so close to shore!

Right whale | Photo: naturalist Tasia

We first spotted the whale taking a dive, so we stopped the boat and stayed a safe distance away of 500+ yards as according to the right whale restriction guidelines. The whale continued to take shallow dives spending a good amount of time at the surface. From the looks of the individual, we estimated it to be about 20–30 feet in length, and it seemed to be healthy (though it did have prior entanglement scars on its fluke). Learn what the right whales are eating in Cape Cod Bay on the Right Whale Research Blog!

Right whale | Photo: naturalist Tasia

Overall quite an interesting day! As we left this whale, it appeared to be traveling safely out of the harbor (as we would want it to!). While it’s exciting to see a whale so close to shore, hopefully tomorrow it will be long gone from the harbor.

Google Earth image of the location of right whale

Here’s to the official first whale of the season!

— Laura