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!

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