Log for October 27, 2015

On yesterday’s whale watch aboard the Sanctuary, we had a fabulously calm day (especially for late October) offshore. We spotted our first sighting a bit west of the SW corner, which was a breaching humpback in the distance! As we slowly approached this whale, it then began to flipper slap continuously on its side, also rolling a few times. 

Jungle flipper slapping

One of the hypotheses for flipper slapping/other surface activity is that is helps the whale remove whale lice/barnacles attached to them. By looking at this whale’s flipper, perhaps it was trying to knock off the large goose barnacle (see photo above). After all that activity, this humpback began to log at the surface. Our fall intern Kady was able to later ID this whale as Jungle, by just the tip of the fluke!

Jungle creates a rainbow with its blow—it's a rainblow!

We then moved onto a group in the distance, which turned out to be Diablo and calf, and Wyoming. This trio was traveling slowly and hanging below the surface to rest (and also not fluking much). This however did not stop the curiosity of Diablo’s calf, who came up to our boat and repeatedly swam under us the remainder of the trip, alternatively popping up each side of the boat! 

Diablo's curious calf
Curious whale, straight ahead!

We got some of my favorite looks of the fall from this calf – and at one point it even popped up between the pulpits! (see photo). We also spotted a few harbor seals offshore, and combined with the calm seas it was a wonderful day.

Diablo's calf at surface in gloriously calm seas

On another note, I’m happy to share that our whale watching season has been extended to Nov. 8th. Excited for some November whale watching!

— Laura


Log for October 26, 2015

We had another amazing whale watch aboard the Salacia today! Though the seas were certainly less than ideal, we weathered the wind and waves and made it down along the eastern edge of the bank and finally to the southeast corner where we found groups of whales as far as the eye could see. 

We were thrilled to spend time with two humpbacks, one of which may have been a juvenile or calf, that were breaching like crazy! Breaching is always a very special sight to see, but our luck went through the roof when we came across a group of bubble net feeding whales! 

Aerospace, Circus, Colt and Hancock all joined in on the bubble net and seemed to surface on all sides of the boat! Despite the swell and wind wave plowing in from the north, Captain Matt Cadman did an excellent job at positioning the boat so that passengers would have great views of these whales while minimizing the rocking created by the seas.

I think all our guests on board agreed that despite the bumpy ride, the excitement of the breaching and feeding frenzy was well worth the trip!

— Tasia


Log for October 24, 2015

Just wow. Whales!

We headed out on the Sanctuary in some stiff autumn weather but we arrived on to Stellwagen Bank to scattered groups of whales for as far as the eye could see. Captain Earl masterfully maneuvered us for the best looks of multiple groups with the difficult seas and we got close looks at 15 to 17 humpback whales and 2 huge fin whales. 

We got to see not only bubble nets, breaches, and surface lunges but bubble nets, breaches, and surface lunges incredibly close to the boat! We started with Diablo and calf but moved on to Habenero and calf who were joined by another smaller whale. 

This group was fluking and seemed to be slowly travelling when all of a sudden we got to witness an amazing breach, the whale’s entire body breaking the surface of the water just off the bow! There were a number of whales who breached and tail lobbed during today’s trip but this was the most spectacular, unfortunately you’ll just have to believe me as I didn’t manage to get a photo. Luckily at this point we were able to move with the waves (much more comfortable!) to some whales actively feeding. 

Here there were a multitude of whales forming bubble nets and rising open mouthed to be descended on by huge flocks of great shearwaters and gulls. We spent most of the rest of our trip with Colt, Hancock and her calf who were then joined by Komodo and Aerospace. Also in the area were Crisscross, Pixar, Reflection, and Habenero and calf again.

Today’s trip marks the end of my whale watch season and I’m heading off next week to sail from Dakar, Senegal to Recife Brazil as a scientist on board a research expedition to study marine plastic pollution. I’m looking forward to learning new skills and enjoying some warmer weather then today’s trip. I’ll be blogging about the trip at oceantalktegan.wordpress.com

— Tegan

Whale watches will run through November 8 this year! Buy tickets online.


Log for October 19, 2015

Yesterday’s whale watch aboard the Sanctuary was one of those whale watches that we will never forget. After an iffy Sunday of rough seas, we set out on the water with mediocre expectations but high hopes! 

Our hopes were fulfilled by 15-20 hungry humpbacks bubble net feeding across the southeastern corner of Stellwagen Bank. In fact, animals of all shapes and sizes were feasting on a plethora of sand lance that were clearly visible in large bait balls at the surface of the water.

As we watched Thalassa, Colt and Hancock (notably calf-free), they created perfect spiral bubble nets which were followed by powerful and synchronized open-mouth lunges. We noticed as they expelled the sea water, trapping the sand lance inside, that some of these sand lance actually became lodged between their baleen plates (see photo of Hancock). Seagulls and shearwaters flocked to take advantage of this easy feeding opportunity and enjoyed a quick rest on their heads after each surface lunge. 

Meanwhile, a handful of humpback groups and a minke or two, fed all around us, Pitcher and Hatchmark in one group, Diablo and Zeppelin in another. Captain Dave simply kept the sanctuary out of gear as bubble nets popped up all around us and everyone squealed with excitement.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, out of nowhere came two clepto-fin whales to steal this trio’s bubble net! In a blink of an eye, these partners in crime lunged sideways in perfect unison right across our bow. Forget greyhounds of the sea, these thieves of the sea (coined by a passenger ;) wasted no time and quickly moved on to Diablo and Zeppelin’s adjacent bubble net and then on to the next victims! This interspecies parasitic behavior was the first I’ve observed between fin whales and humpbacks and created quite a rush as we watched! After personally not seeing fin whales for months, these enormous animals made a powerful return to the feeding scene yesterday afternoon!

Bird watchers basked in bird heaven as we made our way home and observed a range of bird species including black, white-winged, and surf scoters, northern gannets, Cory’s, manx, sooty, and great shearwaters, a number of gull and tern species, as well as a couple jaegers!! To add a cherry on the cake, we were lucky enough to spend time with a group of 5-7 harbor porpoises that we spotted on our way home! Having not seen harbor porpoise since spring, this sighting was a great way to end an unforgettable day on the water!



Log for October 15, 2015

Stellwagen Bank was full of excitement this afternoon! As Captain Joe and our team of whale watchers arrived on the bank, the numerous birds was a sure sign of a great whale watch ahead. 

Though we had to search a little further southeast than usual, we were pleased to find three groups of surface feeding humpbacks attended by hundreds of gulls, shearwaters and various other bird species. Among these whales, we were lucky to spot three mother-calf pairs including Whirlygig, Diablo, and Hancock. Pitcher, Colt and the mothers were very erratic in their feeding behavior making it difficult to anticipate where they would surface next. 

Luckily, the bright green bubbles and hovering birds helped us find their next surface lunging location. These whales feasted on sandlance using mostly bubble nets accompanied by occasional kick-feeding. 

Diablo spent a lot of the time in the lime light with her unique chin-kick-feeding which created huge splashes before she went down on a dive (see photo). She also exhibited an unusual behavior following drag-filtering where she threw her chin up a couple times before submerging again, possibly to toss those sand lance toward the back of her throat and down the shoot. Diablo’s calf even gave us a nice tail breach before we turned back for Boston! It was another glorious day out on Stellwagen Bank!

— Tasia


Log for October 12, 2015

Stellwagen Bank was whale city yesterday afternoon! We observed approximately 11-14 humpbacks alone. A handful of minke whales, lots of tuna and huge aggregations of birds also joined in on this feeding frenzy. 

As the feeding took place, the movement of the humpbacks was incredibly unpredictable and sporadic. A handful of times they gave us a surprise surfacing right next to the boat as Captain Dave had us floating out of gear.  We were literally surrounded by whales all within about 20 yards of the boat.

Rocker kick feeding

Some of these whales were kick-feeding while others used large, spiral bubble nets to fish. Among these humpbacks was Mostaza’s ’14  calf, Rocker, Zeppelin, Azrael, Echo, Leukos and her current calf. 

Mostaza's 2014 calf

For the grand finale, five of these whales lunged through a shared bubble net and up out of the water right off our port bow and proceeded to drag their heads slowly across the surface as they filtered out their catch! We had so much fun waiting for these animals to surface as they fed. 

You could definitely feel the excitement in the air! It was another spectacular fall whale watch.

— Tasia


Log for October 7, 2015

We had a fantastic afternoon of whale watching aboard the Sanctuary today with Captain Dave and his A-team. Though the swells created from the storms this past week are still present, they seem to be coming down steadily. It was a beautiful ride out to the southwest corner of the bank where we found over a dozen scattered humpbacks many of which appeared to be subsurface feeding. 

Gladiator next to boat

We observed a range of associated humpback formations as whales joined and separated from one another throughout intermittent periods of travel and subsurface feeding. These whales included Colt, Circus, Gladiator, Aerospace, Boomerang’s 2012 calf, Bounce, Nile, Pitcher and Putter.

Nile and Putter

One rather steady group which fascinated us today was Nile, Pitcher (a duo who has spent a lot of time together this past season), and Putter. Nile and Putter, having a common mother but separated by years, are brother and sister. But is this association a serendipitous meeting or more meaningful? Currently, there is no evidence linking kinship to associations. Our seeing these related whales in a single group is more likely linked to the benefits of collaborative feeding and the likelihood of having a run-in at the common feeding ground mom took them as calves. Nonetheless, we still have a huge amount to learn about these animals, and I certainly hope there are some surprises along the way!


— Tasia


Log for October 6, 2015

Hancock and Aerospace

After a week long drought of whales due to high seas, today we finally got back out to Stellwagen to find some whales! After the bout of weather such as we had over the last week, sometimes things can really stir up and change offshore. We tried our hand back the SW corner, and we were elated to find that there were still many whales in the area! In total we estimated about 18-20 humpbacks spread out amongst the SW corner.

Check out this big group

We spent our trip with three different groups, all appearing to be subsurface feeding and moving fast through the area. One of our first individuals we spotted was Putter, a male humpback who recently loss part of his dorsal likely from a “rowdy” group of males competing for females in the breeding ground. He was traveling today with Bounce, who surprised us with a tail breach and a few tail flicks early in the trip (see photo). Hanging nearby but not associated was Zeppelin, who appeared to travel nearby most of our whales today.

Bounce does a tail flick

We also then spotted a group of five humpbacks that consisted of Aerospace, Jupiter, Wizard’s 2014 calf, and Hancock and her 2015 calf. It was great to see one of our favorite calves again, who didn’t disappoint by occasionally swimming up to our boat, and even surprised us with a breach! This group was moving fast through the area, most likely scrambling to feed as much as they can before they head back south for the winter. 

A rainblow, courtesy Hancock and Aerospace

We ended our trip with all 8 humpbacks in various spots around our boat. Despite a little bit of swell, it was a crisp wonderful day to observe wildlife, as we also observed Northern Gannets, Great Shearwaters, and White-Winged Scoters.

Cheers to getting back on the water!

— Laura