2014 Sightings | June 30

On our 9 am trip on board the Cetacea, we searched and searched along the bank until we found our regular, Hancock!

Acrobatic Hancock

Per usual, she was doing lots of bubble net feeding. Today, however, she gave us a special treat. Hancock very unexpectedly leapt clear out of the water with a spinning breach and an ENORMOUS splash! She followed this full breach with two sequential tail breaches which were unlike any I have ever seen! How Hancock was able to throw her tail (which is, of course, her mode of propulsion) so high out of the water is mind blowing!

Profile of Hancock's mouth

Hancock bubble feeding

As we cruised up to Hancock this afternoon on our 1:30pm whale watch, she again teased us with a full breach in the distance and left us wanting more! While she didn’t deliver on another breach, she did continue on bubble net feeding which is always exciting! She then started traveling south pretty quickly so we moved on to Mogul who was nearby.


Mogul was subsurface feeding with a single bubble cloud as he has been much of the past few weeks. We got some really great looks of him as he dove very near to the boat.

A Cory's shearwater

As Mogul repeatedly dove and surfaced for air, we watched a number of Cory’s, Sooty and Great Shearwaters circle the feeding area in search of sand lance. We also noticed a lot of Common terns as we passed Conley Terminal which isn’t anything new. I just happened to get a cool shot that I wanted to share (see photo)!

A tern passes Conley Terminal in Boston Harbor

— Tasia


On board the Asteria we headed southeast in search of whales. Early on in our trip we had a surprise sighting of a minke whale. We slowed down but were not able to get a good look. While searching for the minke we spotted a large blow in the distance. We travelled towards it and were lucky to find a finwhale!

A speedy finback whale

This finback was traveling quickly at the surface of the water. We stayed with this whale for a bit, but then decided to move on in search of something closer to the bank. We headed towards Provincetown but didn’t have any luck so we headed north.

Hancock's mouthful of food

After a while we finally found Hancock a female humpback whale! Throughout the trip, Hancock was consistently doing her signature bubble ring feeding. It was great when we were able to spot the bubble rings before the whale broke the surface with a mouthful of fish! Hancock fluked consistently and the passengers applauded in awe every time she went down on a dive.

Hancock's fluke

We joked that Hancock must have really liked her audience this afternoon because she pooped quite a bit while we were watching her! Despite the brown defecation, it was a lovely sunny day out on the water today!

Annie Goodenough


On the 12pm trip on board the Aurora we headed out to mid Bank, just south of the shipping lanes. We spotted two blows on the horizon and another sure sign of whales, a whale watch boat! As the other boat was leaving we approached the whale they had been watching.

Hancock feeding again

It was Hancock doing some great bubble rings which she would rise through showing off her baleen. Hancock seems to be doing a lot of feeding lately which enviably leads to lots of poop. Hancock pooped every time she surfaced and on a few occasions as she dove again.

As we, naturalists, are always happy to point out, whale poop is amazing stuff

Mogul was also in the area and we got some great looks at this humpback as well. Mogul was probably doing some subsurface feeding using large bubble clouds to scare the fish into a bait ball.

A great day with these feeding giants.

— Tegan, Grace and Kirsten


2014 Sightings | June 20

This morning was a beautiful sunny day on the southwest corner with calm seas.  We came across a fin whale and watched it for one surfacing and then headed toward Hancock about 2.5 miles away from our fin whale.

Hancock's fluke

Hancock's dorsal fin

Hancock was bubble cloud feeding but consistently changing directions and it was difficult to predict where she was going to surface.  She picked up speed about half way through our trip but passengers got some great looks of her head as she came up on a couple of surfacings.  We saw her do one chin slap during her feeding activity and saw the water straining from the sides of her mouth at one point.

Hancock's breath

There was one other blow seen in the area from a humpback but other than that Stellwagen was pretty quiet.  There was one Northern Gannet spotted during the trip.

— Laura


Look and calf

We had an amazing whale watch today on the Aurora!! Captain Jeff went above and beyond today bringing us out to an area between Tillie’s Ledge and Straw Hat where the whales were plentiful. We had blows in all directions with lots of whales breaching and feeding.

Open-mouth feeding

Pectoral flipper slap

Tracer's tail slap

Among the different humpbacks we saw included Buckshot, Tear, Putter, Fern, Tracer, Daffodil, Loon and her calf. Tracer was feeling very silly and doing lots of tail breaching. At times, Tracer just held her/his fluke high up in the air and waved at us with it. I don’t think a whale has ever made me laugh out loud so much!

Putter's dorsal fin

One of the whales we saw today had a very unusual dorsal fin and we had the hardest time trying to figure out whose it was. After extensively going through the photos, we realized that it was actually Putter’s dorsal.

Putter's tail slap

Putter being the first whale I ever IDed, I am very familiar with her fluke and dorsal so it was quite a surprise when we realized that it was hers. It seems as if a very serious entanglement has deformed her fluke leaving it very misshapen. It was really sad to see the effects of the entanglement first hand but we are glad to see that she seems healthy and well healed!

Putter's fluke

We also saw lots of bird diversity today which was a welcome change! Overall, we had an incredible whale watch and are excited to get back on the water to see them!




It was a beautiful day out on the southern edge of Stellwagen Bank. Upon arrival, we spotted Hancock. She was doing 5 minute dives and some bubble cloud feeding.

Hancock's fluke

Then we saw two blows in the distance, so went to investigate. What we thought was two whales turned out to be six! We viewed Measles in the distance. It seemed that it wasn’t associated with the other individuals. Measles swam off in a different direction. So, we spent the remainder of our trip with a group of 5 humpbacks; Mogul, Vulture and calf, and Tongs and calf.

Vulture's calf's fluke

The group was traveling in a linear direction and were taking short dives. While the adults were under the surface, the two calves “played” at the surface, practicing some tail lobbing.

I think that it will be easy to name this whale in the future because it has some great patterns on its tail. It looks like the number ‘100’ is written out on its right fluke, maybe that could be a possible name. Overall, it was a great day out on the bank!

— Hannah


2014 Sightings | June 19

This morning the Asteria headed out to the Southern edge of Stellwagen Bank. As soon as we crossed over onto the bank we sighted a finwhale!

Finback whale

Within a 100 yard radius of the finwhale there were at least three minke whales as well. The seas were as calm as glass which made it easy to spot the minke whales popping in the distance. After spending some time with the finback whale, we traveled further in search of humpbacks.

Hancock, the female humpback

Eventually we found a female humpback named Hancock. Hancock has been spotted frequently the past few weeks. There were 3 different school groups on board today and they all were very interested in Hancock’s fluke and how she got her name. It is a bit like working in forensics when we match flukes. They are a lot like fingerprints! Hancock spent most of the trip doing relatively short 3 minute dives. Occasionally she would trick us by fluking and then resurfacing just moments later!

— Annie G.


This afternoon on the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank we got to see a humpback whale named Diablo! Born in 1983 to a whale named Five-J, this 31 year old female was making about six minute dives and spending little time at the surface of the water. But we got to see her beautiful, all black fluke each time she dove.

A dive by Diablo

Flukes range from being all white to all black on a scale from 1 to 5 respectively so we call all black flukes type 5 flukes. A week ago today, I reported seeing a humpback with a type 5 fluke that we were unable to identify. We later identified that whale as a whale named Blackout. Throughout the identification process, we considered Conflux and Ebony as possibilities. Ironically, Ebony was Blackout’s mother and Conflux is one of Diablo’s offspring. All four have entirely black flukes!

Diablo's black fluke — A type 5

While we are not certain what determines the color of a whale’s fluke, the fact that these two mother calf pairs both have all black flukes could indicate either an environmental or genetic pigmentation source. It will be interesting to see in the coming years if our research of these individuals will contribute to solving this puzzle!

Diablo's dorsal fin

— Tasia


It was a fantastic day out on the Northwest corner of Stellwagen bank. We went to the location of where our 12pm trip had seen whales. Once there we found Diablo, a 31 year old female humpback whale.

Diablo breach

At first she seemed to be in more of a relaxed state, taking 4-6 minute shallow dives. Then all of a sudden she did a full breach about 150 yards off the port bow. Passengers cheered in excitement! Breaching is a rare behavior that every whale watcher hopes to see. I happen to catch this amazing acrobatic breach from Diablo.

Double pectoral flipper slapping

She then continued being surface active while treating passengers to about 20 minutes of pectoral slapping.

Another pectoral slap: You can see how flexible humpback flippers are even though they have bones in them

After reviewing the data that we have about Diablo, I noticed that she has a had a calf for past several years (2008, 2010, 2012). Knowing what we know about humpback’s pregnancy, that females have a calf every 2-3 years, I hypothesize that she could be pregnant this year! Also if you look back at the breach photo that I took during the trip, you’ll notice that she seems to be a bit big. Hopefully we’ll see Diablo with a calf next season.

Diablo's pectoral flipper

— Hannah


2014 Sightings | June 18

We had a beautiful day today on board the Aurora for the 12:00 whale watch. The seas were calm, under 2 feet, bright clear skies and we had great visibility on the southwest corner. We spotted a few scattered blows throughout our trip but most of the whales were subsurface feeding and acting elusive.

We started on Measles, who was taking about 3-4 minute dive times with about three breaths per surfacing. Then we moved on to a second whale that was seen about a short distance away closer to Provincetown. This whale turned out to be Valley, a female whale that is a new sighting for this season!


Valley is a female whale who is easily identified by her lack of a dorsal fin, and who had a calf last season. She was traveling and subsurface feeding alone today, but did make one singe bubble cloud. She did not come up open mouth but it was clear she utilized this bubble cloud, as opposed to rejecting it.

Valley does not have a dorsal fin, making it easy to identify her

We watched Valley for a while and saw a few other blows in the area. On our way back to Boston, we spotted a fin whale about 5 miles from Minots Light but were far enough away so we didn’t stop. It was a very peaceful and sunny day on Stellwagen today, I am excited to add Valley as a new whale to our sightings list!

— Laura C.


We had a fin-tastic day out on Stellwagen Bank! We started with a brief look at an elusive fin whale near the southwest corner. We continued on and found several humpback whales on the southwest corner. We first spotted our old friend, Measles who was soon joined by a new whale for us, Valley, an old Stellwagen favorite.

Measles and Valley

These two whales were likely feeding below the surface, blowing green clouds of bubbles that they would surface in, even some surface open mouth feeding! Valley is an unusual whale because at some point in her more than 29 years she has lost her dorsal fin and just has a smooth hump where other whales have a more distinct dorsal fin. This made telling the two whales apart a piece of cake!

A huge, plankton-eating basking shark

While we were watching these two amazing animals, our intern on board, Lindsey spotted something else. The calm sea conditions allowed us to have a spectacular encounter with a basking shark. Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the ocean, only smaller a whale shark, reaching lengths of us to 26 feet! These giants of the ocean feed entirely on plankton that they filter out of the water through a process reminiscent of baleen whales. For everyone on board it was a special moment.

We also spotted several Cory’s shearwaters during today’s trip.

— Tegan, Lindsey, & Kirsten


2014 Sightings | June 17

It was another beautiful day on Stellwagen Bank. We travelled out to the northwest corner of the bank but even with great viewing conditions we couldn’t find any evidence of whales. So we made our to mid-Bank near the shipping lanes.

Hancock feeding

Upon arriving in the area we spotted two animals that weren’t associated. We first decided to check out a humpack whale that we determined to be Hancock. She gave us some great looks at her expanded ventral pleats when she surface fed in her perfectly round, bright green bubble nets. Her precise 3 minute dives allowed us to accurately predict her appearances and get great looks.


The second whale in the area was taking much longer dives and traveling in a more direct fashion. We did get a good look this animal’s fluke and it was Mogul! Mogul has been seen over the past couple of days on the northwest corner but seems to be moving south. Prehaps a trend!

— Tegan, Lauren, & Haylee


On board the Aurora we headed out to the middle of Stellwagen Bank in search of whales. The wind had increased significantly since yesterday and there were quite a few white caps on the water, making it difficult to spot whales.

Finback at the surface
Throughout the trip , we did find 3-4 finback whales scattered around the bank. They all exhibited similar behaviors. They only spent one or two breaths at the surface before ducking back down and traveled very quickly. These whales were clearly on a mission to eat. In fact, the first finback whale we saw left some brown defecation at the surface which is a great sign that the whale had been feeding.

— Annie G.


This afternoon on the Cetacea, we went out to midbank where humpback whales Hancock and Mogul had been seen earlier in the day. While we didn’t see Hancock in the area, Mogul was still exhibiting the same subsurface feeding behavior we have observed over the past few days. He was making about 4-minute dives, each time surfacing with a small bubble cloud.

Mogul's dorsal fluke

Mogul's ventral fluke

While we can assume from this behavior that he is feeding lower in the water column, we can’t say for sure exactly what is going on down there! Luckily with modern technology, we can learn a great deal about subsurface behavior using digital tags known as DTAGS.

Today happens to be the first day of a tagging study being conducted by scientists from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in conjunction with scientists from a number of other institutions. Our very own Director of Marine Education and Conservation/Naturalist, Laura Howes, is joining them for this very exciting undertaking! They will be attaching these non-invasive, suction cup DTAGS to learn more about humpback and fin whale subsurface behavior. We are very excited about the project and hope to see the team in action!

— Tasia


2014 Sightings | June 16

This morning on board the Asteria the whale really made us work for the wonderful whale watch we had.

Fin whale

We made a loop of the southwest corner and southeast corner before heading towards the northwest corner. Just north of the southeast corner we found a number of minke whales which were darting around the area, likely feeding. In mid-Bank we found a fantastic fin whale which was probably feeding as it was making huge circles and lazily surfacing and going down.

A fin whale's snout

We got great looks at this huge animal and the clarity of the water meant we could see the whale’s rostrum or top of its head. The smooth flat snout of a fin whale looks a bit like a duck’s bill leading some researchers to refer to it as a “bill”.


We then moved on to Mogul who is a male humpback born in 1986, his age is definitely shown in the nicks along the edges of his tail and dorsal fin. While many whales do have scars from ‘human interactions’ like entanglement and vessel collisions, whales do acquire scars naturally through feeding behavior and especially for males in rowdy groups on the breeding ground. Mogul was doing some subsurface feeding today using huge bubble clouds. The clarity of the water provided great looks at Mogul’s enormous pectoral fins which may allow humpback whales to make tight turns and acrobatic maneuvers under the water.



We had a beautiful day out on the water on board the Aurora. The seas were very calm and visibility was outstanding! We spent our trip watching Mogul, a 28 year old male humpback.

Mogul resting at the surface

Mogul was bubble feeding alone today. We observed that he would make just 3 consecutive small bubble clouds before surfacing, likely with a mouthful of fish. Mogul consistently moved slowly while at the surface. At one point in the trip, I think he took a short logging nap. During this time, Mogul stayed very still at or just below the surface of the water. Overall, I would describe Mogul’s behavior as slow and a bit lazy – he must know it is a Monday. However, his slow movements made it easy for us to keep track of him throughout the whale watch!

— Annie G.


A familiar fluke: Mogul

Today, on board the Cetacea for the 1:30 whale watch, we went towards the northwest corner of Stellwagen where our sister vessels had been at earlier trips.

Mogul's dorsal fin with the Boston skyline on the horizon 

Upon arrival, we found Mogul, the 28 year old male humpback. He was doing short 3-5 minute dives. Just before surfacing from each dive, we would see a single bubble cloud appear at the surface, indicating that Mogul was doing some feeding. We did see a minke whale in the distance, but no other whale activity in the area. It was a beautiful day out on the bank with great visibility and calm waters. 

Mogul’s dorsal fin while he was swimming amongst large amounts of pollen at the surface.

— Hannah


2014 Sightings | June 15

On today’s 12pm whale watch aboard the Cetacea, we headed towards mid-bank in search of whales. We first came upon a rather large, fast traveling fin whale. We observed this individual traveling over a mile in quite a short amount of time! The whale then appeared to be foraging as it changed direction quite frequently, and we left it to continue the the NW corner of the bank.


On the NW corner we found a few minke whales, as well as male humpback Mogul to make it a three species day! This 28 year-old whale was busy subsurface bubble cloud feeding, and gave us great looks of his white fluke. He also had an impressive tall blow today, compared to the more typical “light-bulb” shape a humpback normally has. Also on our fish finder, we tracked many huge bait balls, with prey going deep down as 200 feet!

Overall a nice sunny day on the water!

— Laura


Mogul's massive tail breach

Today on board the Asteria for the 1:30 pm whale watch, we headed out towards the Northwest Corner. Once we made it to the bank we saw a lone minke whale. We enjoyed a few surfacings with this individual before continuing on our search for some larger whale species. Visibility was fantastic today and the crowd on the bow had no problem pointing out a blow in the distance. Once we got closer to the blow we were able to determine that it was indeed a humpback whale. Once we saw the fluke we confirmed that it was Mogul, a male humpback.


I thought it was fitting to mention that male humpbacks are not very active in the upbringing of their offspring which makes it nearly impossible for us to determine the father of any calf that we see. It is possible that Mogul could be a father to many calves, however it seems as though none of his offspring came to visit him today on Stellwagen for Father’s Day. Throughout the trip, Mogul consistently fluked and took 4-5 minute dives. At one point early on in the trip, he exhibited some exciting rear behavior, even a massive tail breach! It was an absolutely beautiful afternoon out on the water today.

-Annie G.


Profile of Mogul's dive

We had fantastic Father’s Day whale watches on board the Aurora today for our 10am and 3pm trips! Today we went to the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank where humpback whale Mogul was doing some subsurface feeding.

Mogul's fluke

Born in 1986 to Parrot, Mogul is a 28 year old male humpback. Today, Mogul was diving solo down to the sandy edge of Stellwagen Bank most likely in search for sand lance. He was making high fluking dives and, after about four minutes, surfacing with a bubble cloud.

On our morning trip, there were also a few minke whales in the area but none to be seen in the afternoon. As we slowly cruised up to Mogul this afternoon, he was doing some flipper slapping but quickly went right back to his clockwork dives. On our last look of the day, Mogul treated guests to a close surfacing right next to the boat! It was a perfect end to a beautiful day out on the water!

— Tasia