2014 Sightins | May 31

On this morning's whale watch aboard the Asteria, we headed back to SW corner to find scattered bubble net feeding and breaching behaviors of about 12-15 humpbacks.

The sea birds know where the good eats are at!

One of our feeding groups included Geometry, Yoo Hoo, Osprey, Weathervane, and Eraser making repeated spiral bubble nets – we also had Milkweed and her calf in this mix early on, with her calf milling around at the surface while mom fed with the group. The gulls today especially seemed to swarm in high numbers today. At any given time, we had 1-2 other bubble nets around us in the distance – and also had a calf breaching repeatedly even farther away.

Breaching calf with herring gulls

Our big feeding group eventually became a feeding frenzy of 7-9 humpbacks, and we wrapped up our final looks of the group with spectacular open mouth feeding (see photos of Geometry, Yoo Hoo, and Osprey). What made it even more spectacular was a double breach of Nile and her calf in the distance! We wrapped up the trip by getting looks of our earlier breaching calf – which turned out to be Echo’s (see herring gull’s humpback calf photobomb photo).

Open mouth feeding

Another wonderful (but windy!) day!

This afternoon, we headed out to the southwest corner and found the usual large groups of humpback whales. There were many groups and we got the chance to see quite a few different animals but we mainly stayed with Cajun, Wizard and Wizard’s calf.

Wizard and calf

The calf was very playful, doing tons of tail lobs which meant I got a lot of good pictures of this juvenile’s tail for future fluke matching!

Echo kicks

We also got a see a big group of Geometry, Osprey, Daffodil and Echo and calf doing big bubble rings and kick feeding! And another number of animals that I wasn’t able to identify like the picture of a mother and calf. There was tons of activity, bubble rings, breaches, kick feeding going on in every direction that it was a truly great trip!

Unknown mother and calf

— Laura and Tegen


2014 Sightings | May 30

Today on the noon whale watch we headed out to the southwest corner. It was beautiful clear visibility but windy with some white caps. As we got down to the area where we’ve been seeing whales there wasn’t any evidence of animals, which as a naturalist always makes me a little nervous.

Cajun and Glo-Stick's frisky calf

But the more we looked, the more groups of blows we started to see. We noticed a splash that looked like some kick feeding and went to investigate. It was a group that we’ve been a lot lately: Cajun, Jabiru, Glo-stick and calf. The three adults weren’t doing any surface feeding but they would go down for long dives when they were probably searching for fish or feeding below the surface.

The calf however, left at the surface, was in a very playful mood. We got numerous breaches very close to the boat and would spin just below the surface slapping its pectoral fins on the water every time. The calf breached so often that it actually almost breached on top of Jabiru as he was going down for a dive!

Talk about front row seats!

There were a number of other feeding groups in the area and we got to get a few quick looks at these animals as we left. We got to see Measles and Yoo-hoo doing some bubble feeding, another group that’s been together for some time. We also caught looks at Tornado kick feeding with her calf nearby and had ort last group with Grackle and an unknown whale. We passed many more feeding groups that we never got a chance to look at. If only we had all the time to see every whale!

It was a wonderful day on the water with lots of different whales and great time spent with a curious, playful calf. I think this one is going to be a future Stellwagen favorite!

— Tegan


2014 Sightings | May 27

This morning on board the Asteria we headed out to the southwest corner with the hopes of catching some of the great feeding behavior that has been going for the past few weeks. It was windy and wavy and we were joking that type of weather is often called “breaching weather.” Well, was it ever breaching weather this morning!


No sooner had we gotten into the area where we’d spotted blows before we were treated to a spectacular triple breach! Three adult animals launched themselves out the water at the same time and made a huge splash. And then the breaching was happening all around us in every direction there were huge splashes and animals launching out of the water.

Why this type of weather is associated with breaching behavior is a mystery, maybe the animals are trying to get above the waves to get a good breath of air, but no matter the reason it gave us a truly unforgettable whale watch this morning. With all the breaches, tail breaches, chin slaps, tail lobs, and pectoral slapping it was hard to get ids on many of the whales but we did watch Geometry, Osprey, Tongs and calf bubble feeding for a short while and Glo-stick finished off the trip with some kick feeding while Jabiru breached and pec slapped away behind us. I truly don’t think I will ever have another whale watch with so many breaches ever again!

The 12pm trip also had an enormous amount of activity. We first passed about six to eight different fin whales that were feeding in the area. One of the finners that passed by gave us gorgeous views of the asymmetrical white blaze and chevron patterns extending from its white chin along its back. Amongst the fin whales a small minke was porpoising on the surface of the water perhaps also feeding.

Finback whale

Among the many feeding groups of humpbacks that were in the area, were Glostick, her calf and Jabiru. As we’ve often seen over the past couple weeks, Jabiru and Glostick were kickfeeding while the calf played and mimicked their feeding behavior nearby. The calf was tail breaching, chin breaching and even gave us a nice full breach.

Full breach fun for a calf

We then went over to humpback whales Weathervane,  Eraser, Daffodil, Aswan, Samara, Geometry, Cajun, Milkweed and calf. Initially in two or three different bubble net feeding groups, these humpbacks joined up to form a super bubble netting group! It was a spectacularly choreographed display! After two super bubble nets, the group split back up into smaller groups and continued to feed.

Super bubble net!

Slow filter feeding

Right before we left, one of the very large mature humpbacks breached right near the boat! Having only seen calves breach this season, the enormity of the splash made it immediately obvious that this was definitely an adult! We were sad to go but happy to see that the whales are still abundant and actively feeding in large numbers! Another great day on the water!

Adult humpback breach

This afternoon we again headed out to the southwest corner. After the breach bonanza of the morning the whales were feeding in earnest now and we had a great trip watching Jabiru, Glo-stick and Cajun kick and bubble feeding while Glo-stick’s calf played at the surface and gave a few tail breaches.

Many people ask: What happens if the whale eats a seagull? The whale usually just spits it out!
Its throat is usually not big enough to swallow the bird. 

Open-mouth feeding

Many of the calves have been observed emulating their kick feeding mothers and today the calf gave a few tail slaps along with Glo-stick’s kicks which look like this little one is learning this feeding behavior as well.

A little kick-feeding practice with mom and calf

It was awesome seeing these three adults bursting through the water open mouthed to catch fish! Another spectacular trip at the southwest corner!

— Tasia and Tegen


2014 Sightings | May 26

Yesterday on board the Aurora, we headed towards the Southwest corner of Stellwagen once again. We found lots of activity in all directions.

Open-mouth feeding

First we stopped to quickly view 2 fin whales that were traveling side-by-side. A minke whale popped up for a quick sighting as well. We saw lots of blows in the distance, so we moved onward. Next we spent some time with a mom and calf pair, Vulture and her 2014 calf. Vulture treated passengers to a great look at her 15 foot long white pectoral flipper with some pectoral slapping. We spotted a distant single humpback, that turned out to be Ase! Yesterday was the first day that we spotted Ase, which is always exciting to have another new returning individual. Next we wanted passengers to have a chance to view some feeding behavior, so we moved on to a group of 4 humpbacks that were bubble net feeding at the surface. The group was Springboard, Pepper, Orbit, and Geometry. Passengers loved getting glimpses of these humpbacks' baleen with each surfacing (see picture above). Another lone humpback passed that turned out to be Amulet, a female born in 1987.

Springboard, Pepper, Orbit, and Geometry open-mouth feeding

On the 5:30 trip, we traveled south again. When we first arrived to the area, it felt like the day was winding down in the way of activity level, but we were wrong. In the distance we spotted two humpbacks, a mom and a calf, that were continuously breaching but sadly stopped once we approached. It was Echo and her 2014 calf. Maybe mom was teaching her calf that amazing breaching behavior or possibly encouraging it to strengthen its tail muscle. We stayed with Echo and her calf for a few surfacings.

Canine's fluke

Next we moved towards a few distant blows and a large swarm of herring gulls. Upon arrival we found 2 different groups of surface bubble net feeding humpbacks. We viewed one group of three: Pepper, Aswan and Canine! It was the first time we spotted Canine this season. Canine has a type 5 fluke (almost all black), was born in 2004 to Siphon (who first spotted in 1988), and is a common visitor to Bar Harbor, Maine.

It was really great to see another new individual out on the bank. Possibly it's a sign that more humpbacks are arriving in the area! And we observed a group of four: Springboard, Geometry, Samara, and Orbit. Cajun popped up in the mix as well. At one point the 2 groups joined, then separated again. It was a tough trip in the way of data collection because the groups were constantly changing members, but great for passengers!

— Hannah Pittore


2014 Sightings | May 25

This morning we headed to the southwest corner where whales had last been sighted on Sunday’s 5:30 trip. We were in luck!  Before I even finished talking about how to spot for whales we spotted a number of blows.

Osprey kick feeding

There were a few other whale watch boats in the area, as well as a number of humpbacks and fin whales, so decided to spend our time looking at a whale that popped up pretty close to the boat. This turned out to be Osprey, who was first seen in 2007. Osprey certainly did not disappoint. He was lunge feeding, bubble feeding, kick feeding, and even gave us a full breach off the port pulpit!

Fin whale

In addition to this amazing display, we had two fin whales close by who bubble fed and lunge fed multiple times. We also had a fin whale come right off our starboard side and give all of our guests a great look at the chevron pattern on its side. This whale was traveling as part of a pair and slowed down enough for us to really get a good look at their size.

Curious gray seal

Additionally, we spotted a gray seal, which first looked like the fin of a basking shark he was staying at the surface so long! We headed back into Boston with a happy crowd in spite of the swells.

Open-mouth feeding, Provincetown in the background

On the 1:30 pm we headed to the same area but ended up a little further west as a result of earlier reports. As we came towards Provincetown there were again spouts everywhere. We ended up watching a mother and calf. Mom was very relaxed, taking her time while feeding and letting the calf do what it wanted. This included close to boat behavior that involved flipper slaps, tail slaps, rolls, and even a full breach!

Frisky flipper slaps from a calf

While calf fluked multiple times, giving us great photos, mom did not.  I got a glimpse and that, paired with her dorsal, made me pretty sure it was Nile.

Nile and her calf

Nile's calf's fluke

Later on, after we had moved off these guys, one of the other boats confirmed that it was Nile. While we were hanging out with Nile and her calf there were at least 3 other groups, one with 3 humpbacks, one with 2 humpbacks, and one with 2 fins, in addition to a couple of single whales here and there.

While Nile and her calf never joined with the other groups they did get close enough for us to get some decent shots of the members of the other groups. Among these was Yoo Hoo (in the group of three) and Geometry (in the group of two). Yoo Hoo’s group gave us the treat of doing some awesome open mouth feeding through their bubble rings. We also had a great pair of fin whales stop us on our way out and exhibited a couple of synchronized surfacings and dives.

All in all, a great day!

Happy Memorial Day!

Annie Wolf


2014 Sightings | May 24 Part III

On the noon whale watch we headed out to the southwest corner to find a huge amount of feeding activity going on.

Hancock and friend

We started out with a large group of humpbacks: Hancock, Geometry, Daffodil, Vulture and calf, and Tornado and calf. The adults were doing some amazing bubble rings, with very fine curtains of bubbles and great big blasts in the middle while the calves were generally enjoying themselves at the surface with some tail breaches and rolls.

Feeding and tail breach

The group split up and we moved on to Glo-stick and her calf who were with adults, Pleats and Cajun. Glo-stick was doing her signature kick feeding maneuver: striking the surface of the water to stun the fish. This is a learned behavior that not all of the whales do and the ones that do it all seem to have their own way of doing it!

Just up from dive with a mouthful of seawater and fish

We finished off the trip with a quick look at Wizard and calf who were also with an unknown whale. The calf in this group was spending a lot of time swimming upside down under the water!

Adults and calf swimming

On the 5:30 trip we headed out to the southwest but couldn’t find whales! They’d moved about 3 miles north. At the point when we spotted whales we actually had 8 people in the wheel house looking in every possible direction! We spotted Wizard and calf, Echo and calf, Tongs and calf, Vulture and calf, Pepper, and Daffodil. Unfortunately with the lighting I couldn’t get any photos which showed how spectacular this whale watch actually was. We had several breaches from calves around the boat including a great one from Wizard’s calf. We had Atlantic white sided dolphins feeding with the whales and doing fantastic aerial jumps! We even had humpbacks doing lunge feeding which is when they launch themselves out of the water in pursuit of fish – no bubbles needed in this technique. It was a great evening on the water.


2014 Sightings | May 24 Part II

On our first trip this morning, we set out bright and early for Stellwagen Bank. The first whales we came across were Vulture and her calf accompanied by Osprey. Vulture and Osprey displayed beautiful open mouth feeding behavior while the subdued calf swam nearby. Shortly after we arrived, Daffodil and Grackle joined the group. Soon Grackle wondered away and Tongs and her calf, who spent a lot of time right near the boat, joined the group.

Osprey and Eraser feeding

As the whales fed, I was astounded by the size difference between Vulture and Daffodil. Looking at their heads and jaws as the two lunged side by side out of the water, it appeared that Daffodil was about half the size of Vulture. While Vulture was first seen in 1988, we know she is at least 26 but are not certain quite how old she is. Females being larger than males, she is one of the largest humpbacks I have seen. Daffodil, on the other hand, is only eight years old. She definitely has some growing to do; nonetheless, she is an exceptionally small whale. Just like some people are naturally much taller than others, some whales will grow to be larger than others. Even as they took a dive to start another round of bubble feeding, the size difference in their flukes was obvious.

Vulture and Daffodil drawing a crowd of seagulls
Arriving at the surface with a mouthful of fish and sea water
Pleats fully extended

Among the many feeding groups in the area, Yoo hoo and Measles were also feeding very close by. Throughout the scattered feeding groups were a few minkes and a fin whale who swam about 50 yards off our bow. We even saw two humpbacks in a nearby group do a double breach which was a fantastic end to a great trip.

This afternoon the groups seemed a little more scattered than they had been earlier in the day. We first watched Eraser and Osprey feeding who were eventually joined by Samara and Aswan. We had especially amazing looks of Eraser and Osprey when they created a bubble net right at our stern!

We watched as the water poured out of one Eraser’s mouth.

One of the highlights of our trip was a seagull eating sand lance right off one of their backs! 

As we wondered around the feeding whales, we also saw Hancock, Rocker, Geometry, Amulet, and finally, Tornado and her calf.

Tongs and calf

It was another wonderful day out on Stellwagen Bank!

Tasia, Naturalist and Photographer

2014 Sightings | May 24 Part I

Today was the best whale watch I have seen this season thus far!

Acrobatic calf breaches

We headed out towards the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank on the Asteria and saw three humpback blows in the area.  We passed a single traveling humpback to go directly towards Tornado and her calf, who started flipper slapping, tail slashing, and rolling around at the surface.  The calf was being very playful right next to our boat and Tornado gave us wonderful close up views as they went right under our bow and fluking right next to the boat.  There were two humpbacks traveling together in a deliberate southeast direction and closely passed Tornado and her calf.  Tornado and her calf started milling and slowing down their behavior when I noticed a lot of commotion in the distance. About 4 miles north of us near mid-bank I could see at least 8 different blows with a lot of white water and numerous birds. This was a great indication of a lot of feeding activity!  We left Tornado and her calf to go investigate all the commotion.

Synchronized fluking

I was so excited to see that we found a highly productive area on Stellwagen Bank that seemed to attract 12-15 humpbacks, a couple of minke whales, and hundreds of gulls and shearwaters. We first stopped on a whale named Milkweed, born to Trident, with her calf by her side  Trident is a very popular whale on Stellwagen because she is one of our largest females in the population and had her first calf at only 5 years of age!  Milkweed and her calf came very close to our boat and were giving trumpet blows, an indication of pure excitement. The calf was rolling at the surface while Pleats came right over and started feeding next to Milkweed.

Feeding frenzy—humpbacks and seabirds both in on the action

About 300 yards away there was a large group of 6 whales feeding together, along with two pairs of humpbacks, and 2-3 singles in a 2 mile radius, making it a feeding frenzy!  The main group of whales were using shared bubble nets and consisted of Cajun, Geometry, Springboard, Daffodil, Vulture, and Eraser.  Vulture’s calf stayed about 50 yards away from all the feeding commotion and decided it was a good idea to start breaching!

We had simultaneous aerial activity from the calf including head breaches, full spinning head breaches, tail breaches, back breaches, and chin slaps, all while our large group was feeding open mouth!  It was overwhelming to decide which direction was the best place to look! Pepper was seen kick-feeding about ¼ mile away with another humpback, as well as Orbit. There were other humpbacks feeding in the area and one conducted lob-tails in the distance.  Milkweed, her calf, and Pleats followed into the area and Milkweed joined the large group to share some bubble clouds. I also think a couple of humpbacks snuck in on a few bubble nets and quickly split, making it difficult to ID them. There were about 6-8 whales moving in and out of this feeding group at a given time. All the humpbacks were diving so quickly to continue trapping the sand lance and there were 150-200 gulls and shearwaters following them to get their share of the meal. It was definitely a successful feeding frenzy out there today!

A nice look at the ventral pleats on a hungry humpback whale

Two feeding humpbacks. On one, you have a chance to see some expanded ventral pleats on it’s lower jaw.
And with the other, you can see many of it’s baleen plates. 

In total, we saw 3 mother calf pairs, 2-3 minke whales, and 12-15 humpback whales.  The only activity we didn’t see today was sleeping, and I think everyone was OK with that!


2014 Sightings | May 23

On our whale watch this morning, we met up with Echo and her very energetic calf! We noticed the duo from miles away by the enormous white splashes the calf was making as it breached.
Breaching on mom: Echo's calf practices full body breaches

Like many calves we’ve seen this season, Echo’s calf appeared to be mimicking Echo’s kick feeding.

While Echo exhibited systematic, controlled pumps of her fluke, the calf seemed to sloppily throw the caudal half of its body into the air, not really certain where it was going to land. 

Other times, the calf appeared to be doing under water head stands to test
how long it could keep its fluke held high in the air. 

While Echo’s calf played, Echo blew bubbles and did an array of subsurface feeding,
kick feeding and open mouth lunging. 

It was really adorable to watch this young, excited calf test the limits of its body as it tried new things. At one point, it was calmly spyhopping at us, and with one, quick flick of its fluke it splashed everyone on the port pulpit!

Echo's calf was highly curious and spent a lot of time swimming right up to the boat.

Osprey also came over for some time and repeatedly dove down (see photo) to create bubble nets while Echo did the same nearby.

Osprey diving

As part of the calf’s grand finale, it’s tail breaching evolved into full body breaching (see photo at top of post)! She repeated these majestic displays seven to ten times until we had to pull ourselves away from the breaching calf and head back to Boston.

Tasia, Naturalist/Photographer