Log for June 25, 2015

The conditions on Stellwagen Bank could not be beat with light winds, catspaw seas, and plenty of sunshine. We started the day with Nile and Pitcher who looked to be doing some subsurface feeding. 

While the whales were feeding deep there were quite a few gulls “attending” the whales and swooping whenever they surfaced. I even spotted a few taking off with fish in their beaks. Despite my best efforts I wasn’t able to get a photo of this, though if you look closely at my photo of the gull, you might pick out a fish’s tail sticking out of its mouth. 

The bright sun and calm waters meant we had awesome views of the humpbacks’ long bright white pectoral fins which glow green in our plankton laden waters. We decided to go exploring after a bit and continued even farther east and found a scattering of blows around us. As we admired a curious grey seal, a humpback surface close by and I was able to identify a younger animal, our un-named #27. 

This is a very small whale, especially after seeing big Nile but we got some excellent looks at this whale but it ended up taking very long dives and travelling long distances on each surfacing. We got a few looks plus a second grey seal sightings and headed back to Boston. It was an excellent day on the water for all.

— Tegan


Log for June 23, 2015

This morning we headed out to the SW Corner of Stellwagen. As soon as we crossed over onto the bank, we were excited to spot a massive mother finback whale with her calf! This pair was floating together at the surface and might have been nursing! After a minute or so, this pair ducked down on a dive. The next time we spotted these whales they had travelled a bit further away. After we caught up with them, they both dove once again, or so we thought. All of a sudden we spotted the young whale just below the surface directly in across the pulpits! Everyone on the bow got an amazingly close look at this curious calf! Very rarely are finwhales so interested in whale watch boats! 

After this encounter we moved on to check out some other whales that had been reported a few miles away! Along the way we spotted yet another finback and another separate humpback that we were unable to photograph. We spotted some splashing in the distance and decided to investigate! 

The grand finale to our whale watch was watching Spoon, Spoon’s 2015 calf and Mostaza’s 2014 calf splashing around at the surface! Both the calf and the yearling were rolling about at the surface and Spoon exhibited a huge tail breach which excited our passengers! Luckily we had a great whale watch before the forecasted storm rolled in!

— Annie Goodenough


Today we fought our way through the doldrums of Stellwagen Bank in search of humpback whales.  We joined forces again with our friend Captain Jeff in looking for blows amongst the white caps of turbid seas. Despite several moments of fruitless efforts, one whale made its presence known with a full breach!  We spent a few surface intervals with this ocean wanderer, only to be rewarded with minimal activity and a cease in theatrics.

Our Aquarium intern, Foster, jarred my attention as she witnessed a surge of white water erupting off our starboard!  She artfully identified this juvenile as Mostaza’s 2014 Calf from the dorsal fin alone!  

The airborne mountain of blubber and flesh parted the ocean surface in an eruption of white spray, reminiscent of a mechanical submarine returning from its slumber in the unseen abyss.  This celebration of power turned into a veritable tantrum, as the youth even began chin breaching and tossing its pectoral flippers about when not fully airborne.  The seas themselves became rowdy, as two swells burst upon the port pulpit, leaving all survivors drenched and clamoring for safety in the first deck cabin!

Our yearning for whale activity was sated as we departed for terrestrial grounds, and today’s endeavor was a righteous maritime introduction for people new to the majesty of our ocean.

— Rich


Log for June 20, 2015

We spent both the 11 am whale watch and the 3 pm whale watch with two very special whales today Spoon and her calf. In the morning we found the pair to the west of the bank surrounded by some smaller vessels. 

The calf definitely seemed to be directing its behaviors towards one of these boats with a lot of rolling, tail slashing and tail lobbing near it while Spoon spent a lot of time just below the surface a distance away. The pair would taking fluking dives ever once in a while and seemed to be travelling towards the south with every dive. Towards the end of our trip we had two fantastic passes by both Spoon and the calf.

Spoon surfaced near our boat and swam just below the surface along our side and I guess the calf decided to finally come back to mom because it also surface right near us and did a few rolls at the surface for us. The visibility into the water was great today and we got awesome looks at those glowing green pectoral fins showing us where Spoon and calf were in the water. Just as we left we spotted behavior from the calf which definitely looked like it was nursing! Always fun to see!

In the afternoon we headed out towards the southwest corner were all the action had moved. Initially we didn’t spot anything and were debating heading farther east to where the Aurora was when we spotted a huge splash – a breach! We went to investigate and spotted Spoon and calf again. The calf was very active with tail breaches and tail lobs and flipper slaps. Even mom got in on the action this time and gave a few flipper slaps. Seeing a full grown humpback’s pectoral fin, especially one as big as Spoon, is always a treat! Things quieted down for this pair and they kept up their fluking dives and logging. I also spotted my first Wilson’s storm petrel of the season today and my first Cory’s shearwater two of my favorite pelagic sea birds!

— Tegan


Captain Earl took us out to the southern half of Stellwagen Bank in search of whales. There we were in the company of a few other boats as we came across a pair that we have been seeing several times over the past several days: Spoon and her 2015 calf! 

At first they were doing 4-5 minute dives and not spending too much time at the surface. Then, after we had been observing them for about 20 minutes, the calf became very curious about us and came right up on our port side for a good long look at our boat and passengers!  This little precocious guy was so close that up on our researcher platform on the third deck we had a hard time seeing it, but our passengers sure did get fantastic looks! At one point, it became a bit difficult to tell who was watching whom.

The calf rolled and showed us its ventral pleats, flippers, and belly button while Spoon rested nearby.  She seemed very relaxed (or perhaps a bit worn out taking care of such a vibrant calf) while the calf investigated us and the other boats in the area up close.

In the afternoon, we returned in search of Spoon and calf and perhaps some other individuals down off the cape. As we got into the area, we quickly resighted the mother and calf, but also had a third individual pop up not too far from them! This might have been one of the yearlings we have been seeing consistently over the past couple of weeks. This third individual did not join Spoon and calf, but continued to remain in the area and even began to do some intermittent surface activity in the distance.  At one point, Spoon and her curious calf came right up next to us!  The calf investigated our boat once again, and then all of a sudden Spoon herself gave a tremendous tail breach!

It is possible that she may have been responding to that other surface active humpback in the distance.  Since sound travels 6 times faster in water than it does in air, whales are able to communicate primarily via sound and across long distances. We have often observed when one whale begins surface activity, others in the area might respond as well. Her calf continued to ham it up a bit until we moved off in search of a few other individuals in the area.  We drove a bit down the back side of the cape and saw a few other blows spread out in the distance and were able to get a few quick looks of another humpback with a very distinctive dorsal fin.  Unfortunately every time this whale fluked, it was at the wrong angle for an ID – however with such a unique dorsal fin, we should be able to find out who it was eventually.  We also were briefly investigated by a very curious gray seal that did a circle around us!

— Heidi (with interns Jess and Megan)


Today on board the Asteria with Captain Deb we headed to the Southwest corner with a full boat. We barely had time to spot for whales when we saw spouts and some splashing close to a small recreational boat in the area. 

As we got close to these whales we saw a bit of a fluke-it looked like the whale was on its side-and as we got even closer this whale breached! This pair of whales turned out to be Spoon and her 2015 calf. 

While Spoon spent most of her time at the surface travelling or just below the surface, her calf was extremely active. This little one split its time between lots of flipper slapping, rolling, spyhopping, and fluking. 

In addition, by the end of the trip he/she had tail breached and lobtailed multiple times. Spoon and calf were pretty much travelling towards Provincetown on the surface during the entire trip, however, at the end each took a dive, showing their fluke, and were under for at least 5 minutes. This was completely out of the pattern of what they had been doing and we were about to head back home when both surfaced directly off of the starboard side surprising everyone! They spent another couple of minutes at the surface before taking another beautiful dive that ended up being our last look.

It was an absolutely beautiful day with some great whales!

— Annie W and Maddy


Log for June 14, 2015

Today on the Aurora we headed out in beautiful, glass-calm seas out to the SW corner of Stellwagen Bank. We started our trip with Mostaza’s 2014 Calf along with Tongs. This pair was logging when we first spotted them.

Lazy flipper slap

At one point during this logging session, Tongs brought her enormous flipper out of the water for a single flipper-slap! This pair slowly travelled throughout the area during the rest of the trip. We spotted another single whale who turned out to be Clamp’s 2012 Calf. After a while of watching these whales, we moved on to check out another group. 

In this group we spotted four fantastic whales including Nile, Pitcher Wizard’s 2014 Calf and another unknown. Captain Chip did a great job getting us at the perfect angle for us to ID each of these whales as they fluked one at a time! On our way off of Stellwagen, we got one more quick glimpse of another humpback named Ouija! There were many scattered herring gulls who appeared busy today searching for fish at the surface. The calm seas were exceptional today.

— Annie G


We had a great day of whale watching today on board the Asteria. The day started out with a quick look at “unknown 16” and Ouija, both solo diving. Nearby Nile, Pitcher, and Wizard’s 2014 calf were diving together methodically, diving and surfacing in the same sequence each time.

Dozens of gulls fed at the surface while these whales were down. It’s likely that many of the whales in the area were doing some midwater feeding. A duo including Clamp’s 2012 calf swam into the area as we made our way back to Boston.

This afternoon the same trio of humpbacks had tired themselves out and were now logging on the surface. All across the southwest corner solos and duos continued diving, likely subsurface feeding. The gulls were nowhere to be found. The bait potentially may have moved a bit lower in the water column denying the gulls access to their snacks. These whales included “unknown 25”, “unknown 17”, Clamp’s 2012 calf and Mostaza’s 2014 calf.

— Tasia


This afternoon on board the Aurora for the 3pm whale watch we returned to our regular spot on the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. We found 11 scattered humpbacks in the area. First we spent some time with two single humpbacks that ended up joining together.

Nile and Wizard's 2014 calf flipper slapping

It was one of our unknown/un-named whales and Ouija. They were doing short dives of about 6 minutes and fluking. Next we moved a little west to find a trio of humpbacks that as we approached began to pectoral flipper slap. The active juvie was Wizard 2014 Calf! 

Oujia's fluke

Also in the trio was two large adults, Nile and Pitcher. The group surfaced nearby the boat towards the end of our trip, which really gave passengers some insight on how large Nile and Pitcher really were in compared to the smaller yearling. Overall it was a great calm sunny day on the bank.

Nile's blow holes

Harbor seal

— Hannah


Log for June 11, 2015

On our first trip aboard the Cetacea this morning, we spent some time with a whale that, over the past month and a half has been recovering from entanglement. Disentangled by the Center for Coastal Studies disentanglement team on April 26, this whale appears to be stronger and healthier than it had when we first saw it post-entanglement. 

When released by the team, the whale was reportedly very thin and had multiple wounds. Over the past month or so it has been feeding and learning alongside some of the oldest and most experienced female humpbacks around. It is encouraging to see this whale now with quickly healing wounds and a little more meat on it (see photo). If you’d like to read more about the disentanglement, click here.

Nearby, Pitcher and music followed close behind a fishing vessel that Captain Jim and Dave surmised was long line fishing, possibly for herring or mackerel. For the 20 minutes we observed them, this duo traveled close behind the vessel with dozens of birds hovering about (see photo). We considered the possibility that these humpbacks may have been pursuing the same fish as the fisherman. Considering that humans share these ocean resources with whales, it definitely would not have been the first time these land and marine mammals were after the same catch. Luckily long-line fishing is less of a threat to marine mammals than pot fisheries but, after seeing the previously entangled whale, we couldn’t help but worry a little bit about Pitcher and Music.

On our way back to Boston, we stopped for a quick look at Spoon and her calf who have remained in the area over the past few weeks.

On our 2pm whale watch, we went back to the same area but saw none of the same whales! Instead we spent some time with Mostaza’s 2014 calf, Wizard’s 2014 calf, Nile and Ouija! Mostaza’s little guy was exhibiting the same tail slapping behavior I’ve seen it perform in the past, spontaneous quick and shallow tail slaps. Meanwhile, Nile, Wizard’s 2014 calf and another unknown appeared to be subsurface feeding. Ouija also spent some solo time in the area.

We saw a lot more diversity in bird species than we have previously today! In addition to our regular birds (herring gulls, northern gannets, cormorants and terns), we saw Cory’s, sooty and possibly some great shearwaters. We are definitely glad to see these beautiful birds back in the area!

— Tasia


The whales were once again feeling lazy on the Southwest Corner. The wind and waves have increased a little of the past day but the scattered whales in the area were just traveling randomly and resting just below or at the surface.

A close pass by the boat
We spent the majority of our trip with Spoon and her calf though we also watched a few other resting whales. The calf was feeling a little more active and we had one big breach and a few flipper slaps but mostly just rolling and a few close passes to the boat by this little whale. 

The whale's white flippers are easy to spot through the waves

— Tegan


On today’s 12pm whale watch about the Aurora, we headed to the SW corner. Our first pair we spent time with were two younger whales, Ouija and Clamp 2012 calf. While we observed these two, we also spotted some sooty shearwaters – it’s good to see them out here again! This pair began to rest, so we decided to move onto a new pair in the distance. 

This duo turned out to be Spoon and her 2015 calf. This pair seemed to be a bit less sleepy than they were yesterday, and her calf today was a bit playful at the surface! This plump calf was rolling at the surface and showing off its fluke a bit while mom went down on a dive. Spoon’s calf even decided to give us a visit by swimming under our boat!

After this little bout of activity, the calf rejoined mom, and the pair began to rest again at the surface. More sleepy whale time!

— Laura Howes


Log for June 10, 2015

Today was an awesome day to be on the water and has to be one of the best whale watches I have ever been on!

Even the naturalist was amazed by these sights! 

On the 9 am trip we arrived on the southwest corner to flat flat seas and great visibility. We spotted a group of whales that seemed to be doing some pectoral slapping and moved in to check it out. This was by far the best decision of the day. We found Spoon and her 2015 calf as well as Flamingo’s 2014 calf pectoral fin slapping and rolling around. Both Flamingo’s 2014 calf and Spoon’s 2015 calf decided to swim right under the boat, and this whale watch went to “woah” levels of awesome very very quickly. 

Nose to boat!

 Flamingo’s 2014 spent the next 20 minutes slowly swimming under the boat, rolling to look at us and just hanging nose to the boat for all to see. As a naturalist I almost never get to experience whales from the first deck or the bow but today I was just another excited whale watcher hanging over the rail to get a glimpse of this amazing animal. No picture can capture truly capture the moment of going eye to eye with a humpback whale!

A curious calf 

Our 2pm trip was much more a normal affair. The seas had picked up a tiny bit and we headed out again to find a few more humpbacks in the area scattered throughout in small groups logging or taking dives. 

Nile goes down for a dive.

We were able to identify Nile, Wizard’s 2014 calf, Flamingo’s 2014 calf, among the whales in the area. 

The show was stolen by the cutest harbor seal that swam by, checking us out as it went. 

Overall it was day that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.

— Tegan


Log for June 8, 2015

We had an awesome trip this morning on the Asteria! Our first sighting was of a juvenile whale (Unknown 16). This smaller whale was travelling around randomly in the area, popping up for a breath or two every now and again. Eventually another larger humpback whale who we haven’t identified yet joined this juvenile. 

Suddenly another whale came into the mix and chin-slapped the surface with force and then breached into the wind right next to the boat! An electric shock was suddenly jolted into our whale watch! For the rest of the trip, we watched this whale lobtail repeatedly and flipper slap! 

Something especially unique about this whale was that the dorsal side of its pectoral flippers were black! Most of the whales in the North Atlantic have completely white flippers. Many of the whales in the North Pacific population, like the whales I’ve had the pleasure of watching in Maui, have counter-shaded flippers like this one. Another fun feature of this particular whale was that on the left side of the tail there is a unique marking that looks like a chain of islands. Either I have Hawaii on the brain, or this whale is destined to have a Hawaiian name!

— Annie


What a day we had out on the Cetacea! Our morning whale watch started off strong with lots of splashes in the distance, a sure sign of active whales! After a brief fin whale sighting, we followed the splashes to a duo of humpbacks, both of which I had never seen before. These surface active whales were Music and Vault. 

Music spent the entire trip flipper slapping and elicited lots of oohs and ahhs from our guest. She even breached right next to the boat! Music is a prime example of how and why humpbacks in the Gulf of Maine are named. Take a look at this perfect music note right in place on her right fluke (see photo). These marks are not natural but rather scars left from an orca attack, likely within the first year of her life.

Look at the white scratches along the bottom edge

This morning we also spotted Spoon, her calf along with Flamingo’s 2014 calf.

By the afternoon, the wind and sea conditions had elevated, making for a bumpy ride. Captain Bill, along with our crew and guests powered through the waves back to the southwest corner where we found about 10 to 15 humpbacks! Though there were a good number of whales, their long dives in conjunction with the sea conditions made it tricky to track these animals. Luckily, Captain Bill worked his magic and safely brought us to a few different groups. These whales, which likely were subsurface feeding, included unknowns 3, 17 and 25. Vault Music and Mostaza’s 2014 calf were also in the mix this afternoon!

High flipper!

Overall, we had a great day on the water, but we are definitely crossing our fingers for the seas to calm once again.

— Tasia


Log for June 7, 2015

Today on board the Asteria for the 10am whale watch, we headed to the southwest corner to look for whales. First we spent some time with a fin whale that was doing some short dives of about 5 minutes. Next we moved further south to find 10-12 scattered humpbacks, 3 minkes, and 2 more fin whales. 

Big gulp

Passengers were treated to lunge feeding and lots of fluke up dives by multiple humpbacks. For the majority of our trip, we were amazed to observe thousands of sandlance from the surface of the water. It seemed as if the water was glittering and bubbling from all the fish. 

So many sand lance!

On the 2pm trip, we returned to the southwest corner and found the activity level from the morning had slowed down. We found 6-8 scattered humpbacks in the area, as well as a mom/calf fin whale pair. We spent time with Mostaza 2014 Calf who was doing a bit of logging. We also spent some time with a few more humpbacks that are part of our Unknowns catalog (that haven’t been named yet). 


Curious gray seal.

See attached photos of a herring gull with a fresh caught sandlance and a grey seal that was watching us.

— Hannah and Cassie