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!