2014 Sightings | August 3

On today’s 9am whale watch aboard the Cetacea, we headed out to Stellwagen Bank in search of whales – we first tried the western edge of midbank and didn’t find much, so we then headed to the NW corner to where some of our fellow whale watching boats were.

Flipper slapping: Note the barnacles on Hippocampus's flipper

Our morning started out with a bang as we found Hippocampus flipper slapping, with Northstar traveling alongside. Hippocampus was slapping on both its side and belly up for over half our trip! We don’t know exactly why humpbacks exhibit this behavior, but one hypothesis is that they may be trying to knock off the pesky barnacles attached to them (see photo of barnacles on the flipper). It also makes a lot of noise (which we could hear clearly on this calm day!), so it may also be a way to communicate – their flippers weigh about 1 ton, so they can make some loud smacks!

Hippocampus's belly button

As whales are mammals – they indeed have belly buttons too, as Hippocampus laid belly-up, we were able to this whale’s belly button. As you can see in the photo – it appears to be an “innie”! We wrapped up the trip with Northstar and Hippocampus beginning to rest (we call this behavior logging) at the surface.

Hippocampus belly up

On our 1:30 trip, we headed back to the NW corner to find the same pair – this time doing some subsurface feeding. The pair was taking 7 minute dives, and only spending about 1 minute at the surface before they would quickly dive back down.

Hippocampus at the surface

Hippocampus did surprise us with one quick tail breach, and then near the end of the trip we observed bubbles coming up to the surface as the whales were down, indicating that they might have been bubble feeding deep below the surface.

Hippocampus's high fluke

On our last look, Hippocampus made a quick forward surge with its flippers perpendicular to its body  – enabling the whale to lift its fluke high out of the water. Very interesting to see the dynamic of these two whales working together today!

— Laura


Today on board the Aurora for the 10am whale watch, we went to the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. Once there we found our good ole’ friends Northstar and Hippocampus. They were taking slow, low fluking 5 minute dives. With just about 15 minutes left in the trip the whales changed their behavior drastically.

Hippocampus tail slap

Hippocampus began to repeatedly tail slap. Both of the whales were swimming back and forth underneath the boat, which made passengers squeal with excitement! Of course the captain had the boat clutched out when the whales were swimming so close to us.

Hippocampus underwater close to the boat

At one point, due to the position of the catwalk, we were unable to see the activity going on just feet off of our starboard side. Thanks to Captain Chip, for radioing in and giving us a play-by-play to inform us where the whales were so we could then share it with passengers. The starboard side was even surprised with an unexpected spy-hop during this chaos! Hippocampus then began to pectoral slap at the surface. All in all, it was a spectacular day on the bank.

Hippocampus flipper slap

For the 3pm trip, we returned back to the northwest and found our pair again. They were more subdued than our earlier trip, taking 6-8 minute dives and consistently fluking. Due to the longer dive time, we hypothesize that the whales were doing some deep feeding.

Hippocampus and Northstar, together again

— Hannah and Kira


A close approach by Hippocampus

On our 12pm whale watch our passengers, once again, had amazing looks of the curious humpbacks Hippocampus and Northstar. It continues to amaze me how close these whales approach the boat time after time. I found myself wishing I was out on the bow with our passengers who could practically reach out and touch Hippocampus instead of up top on the crow’s nest!

Northstar and Hippocampus

As we have seen throughout the past week and a half, this close duo stayed right by one another’s side throughout the entirety of our whale watch.

On our gorgeous sunset whale watch, we saw three different whales of three different species. Our first whale was an enormous fin whale that was absolutely beautiful. This finback travelled slowly and randomly around the southwest corner of the bank surfacing about every four minutes.

Gorgeous sunset

As we moved on in search of other species, we enjoyed watching the sun set and saw hundreds of shearwaters in small groups or rafts of resting birds. Each group had mixed species including Manx, Cory’s, Great and Sooty Shearwaters. After not long, we came across a small minke whale. Had the sea conditions not been glass calm, we would have never seen it! But luckily we were able to get some great looks of this small rorqual whale.

Dyad swimming into the sunset

A little further north, just south of the shipping lanes, a humpback whale named Dyad was swimming along all on its own. Our sunset tonight was particularly colorful and it provided the perfect backdrop to this peaceful humpback. We were super excited to see all three species of large whales on our spectacular sunset whale watch!

Solitary humpback

— Tasia

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