April 30, 2016

Today I joined with team Sanctuary and Captain Earl for an excursion north of the shipping lanes, and for both of today’s whale watches we found a formidable cetacean spectacle just over the western ridge of Stellwagen Bank.  

Gumdrop shows off

Dubbed appropriately “Earl’s Mother Load”, this site brimmed with emerald green cauldrons of bubble nets emitted by feeding behemoths. An airship black and mighty punctuated the cloudless blue void; we found ourselves with a humpback whale named Gumdrop who thought itself more avian than leviathan (photo)!  This flighty beast carried on with several more breaches before double-flipper slapping, nearly robbing its humpback companion of our awe (photo).

Double flipper slapping

This association of pelagic giants eventually showcased their submarine prowess, fluking for dives of 1-2 minutes and surfacing for single breaths before being joined by a third unidentified humpback. A second association of two anonymous humpbacks passed our bow, but our attention was duly captured by a solitary kickfeeder named Sundown! This aquatic theatre was situated within the outskirts of the Speed Reduction Zone, and I found agreement with our captain that a necessary reduction in boat speed would be worth a second visit.

See the humpback's baleen peeking out of its lips
Chin breach

For the 2pm excursion we investigated just a few feeding associations amidst a vast baleen bazaar of 12+ whales.  From the mysticete marvel of kickfeeding humpbacks we identified the fluke patterns of Gladiator, Whirlygig, and Shuffleboard!  

Our olfactory senses were nearly overloaded as two feeding groups filtered the water for hapless fish; our eyes and noses were defenseless against winds pungent with snarge.  Our ears pricked to the trumpeting blows of two large humpbacks, and our eyes were attentive to brown fecal clouds emitted from humpback bowels (photo).

Gumdrop's fluke
Juvenile fluking

Our last looks were of an unknown juvenile we knighted as “16BH19”. While its proportions were suggestive of youth, its curiosity and penchant for prancing along bow repeatedly certainly indicated a youthful exuberance. Mindful of whale watching guidelines, Earl allowed this humpback swim away from the Sanctuary to depart for deeper seas before we reluctantly headed west for Boston.

We were honored to have the Calvineers join us on today’s afternoon excursion as these young scientific minds use education to advocate the protection of endangered species such as the North Atlantic Right Whale.  Both the Calvineers and New England Aquarium Whale Watch were represented at the New England Right Whale Festival, hope you were able to join us!

— Rich


April 29, 2016

Today was another exciting day on the NW corner! As we arrived on the NW corner of Stellwagen Bank, we documented 4-6 humpbacks (most likely more) in the area, as well as many herring gulls and northern gannets. The behavior of the day was kick feeding! We spotted three individuals solo kick-feeding. it’s always exciting to see this style of feeding, which is unique to Stellwagen Bank.

Tracer kick feeding

Tracer among the birds

Our first whale we spotted kick feeding was humpback whale Tracer, with an all-black fluke. This whale gave us some great looks of its slashing fluke, who also incorporated some deep bubble net feeding. We could tell there was a long period between this whale’s kicks and its bubbles because it would take several minutes for Tracer to come back up after kicking at the surface. We also watched some water filtering out of Tracer’s mouth.

A humpback whale filtering

As if one whale kick-feeding wasn’t enough, another whale stole the show with some even higher-splashing kicking. This whale was named Swimmer, for the marking that looks like a person swimming on the bottom of its fluke (see photo).

Hi, Swimmer!

Swimmer bubble net feeding

It was interesting to compare Tracer and Swimmer’s kick feeding styles – Swimmer was much more spastic in its tail thrashing, and fed more quickly, taking quick dives and surfacing quicker in its spiral bubble net. The more we observe individual humpbacks, the more we learn that they have unique feeding styles.

— Laura


April 28, 2016

Since my first whale watch in March, I have been waiting in anticipation of the feeding frenzy we often observe in the cool, early months of spring. Such feeding frenzies are typically characterized by large bubble nets, throngs of humpbacks, multiple whale species, and hundreds of birds. 

Atlantic white-sided dolphin porpoising

As Captain Dave and I cruised into the speed restriction zone, the bank slowly began to liven up. Looking out on the horizon, our spirits were soon lifted as a long line of blows appeared in the distance. Despite our lack of speed, we successfully made it to what turned out to be an ocean oasis and, in no time, were surrounded by whales and dolphins! 

Close looks at dolphins

As we watched humpbacks emerge from the depths, mouths agape, fin whales and minke whales darted from group to group feasting on an unseen and mysterious food source (likely sand lance). Meanwhile, dolphins in every direction danced in and out of the water.

Mouth agape

A cloud of seabirds is a good indicator of whale feeding
Most of these humpbacks were solo kickfeeding between short bouts of group bubble net feeding. At one point, we identified at least 9 different groups of whales. Among these humpbacks, we recognized Putter, Fulcrum, Pleats, Fern, Shuffleboard, Rapier’s 2009 Calf (not yet named), Tornado (her calf likely nearby), and finally Echo and her current calf.

Our hunger for feeding whales was quenched and so was that of whales for food! I can’t wait to get back on the water to see what the coming days may bring!

— Tasia


April 21, 2016

The Salacia headed out into beautiful calm seas and amazing visibility. Our captain, Jon, decided to head southward which definitely paid off and found about twenty scatter humpback and fin whales in an area well west of Stellwagen. The trip started with some amazing synchronized breaching from a group of three humpback whales in the distance but most had settled down to some non-fluking dives and logging (sleeping) by the time we got close. 

Breathing rainbows

We spent the majority of our trip with a trio of whales (most likely the breachers) who lazily swam along, sometimes just hanging below the water for extended periods of time. The only way we could see them were by the glowing green of their white pectoral fins. It’s easy to see why collisions with vessels are a major threat; in fact one of these three whales had scars which are usually indicative of an interaction with a small boat’s propellers. 

If you’re out on the water this spring and summer remember that whales are around and make sure that if you see a spout, than watch out. We were able to identify one individual as Perseid before moving on. We passed a few more whales on our way home including Tunguska and a curious young humpback that did a few dives under the boat and rolling alongside as if it were trying to figure out just what we were. It was an amazing end to a perfect spring whale watch.



April 14, 2016

On today’s whale watch we headed in some brisk seas aboard the Salacia to the area west of Stellwagen Bank, known as the “dumping grounds” which was Boston’s historical off shore site for industrial waste barrels in Massachusetts Bay, primarily used in the 1940’s, and then later for dredge material. 

Despite the many whitecaps, one of our crew was able to spot the blows of a pair humpbacks, resting and slowly traveling a few meters below the surface, appearing to ride with the waves (in fact we watched this pair pretty much take a zig-zag pattern throughout our whole trip). This pair never graced us with their flukes, but they didn’t seem to mind our boat at all, and hung out with us most of the trip while we idled, amidst several flying northern gannets.

It’s not often over the last few years that our sightings are this close to Boston (roughly 15 miles) and when viewing  whales so closely to the Boston skyline (see photo above), as well as over the dumping grounds, it certainly puts things into perspective. We often talk about the human-caused threats whales face, such as shipstrike and entanglement, and I always feel the backdrop of the Boston skyline really emphasizes the juxtaposition of our whales’ “summer home”. 

We have wonderful whale watches enjoying this wildlife, but the backdrop of Boston also reminds us that humans are part of the environment too. Large efforts went into cleaning up our once very-polluted Boston Harbor, so perhaps reminding ourselves that we are part of the greater ocean (as we see lobster buoys floating or cargo ships pass by), will inspire others to put the same effort as we did for Boston Harbor.

— Laura Howes


April 13, 2016

Sightings started out quickly this morning! Only a few miles east of Graves Lighthouse (outer Boston Harbor), we came across a distant, solo North Atlantic right whale. It’s not all that unusual to see “the urban whale” in such a heavily trafficked area, which is why vessel strikes is such a concern for this critically endangered species. As required, we reported this right whale sighting to NOAA (866-755-6622) so that dynamic management areas for voluntary speed restrictions can be updated accordingly. 

Whale smiles!

A few miles east, we came across a group of six lazy humpback whales. Amongst these humps were Crisscross, Breeze, Striation, and a few juvies. These humpbacks were very social as they rested at the surface exhibiting lots of rolling, head-to-head, and spy hopping behaviors (see photo).


I couldn’t help but notice that one of the juveniles showed evidence of a (likely) recent encounter with humans. Highly consistent with entanglement wounds, fresh wounds were present around its tail stock from rope (see photo). If consistent with past years, approximately 30% of juveniles in the Gulf of Maine will acquire similar, and for many more severe, wounds from interactions with primarily lobster pots and gill nets.

An entanglement would in the peduncle of a young humpback

The group soon began to spread out as Striation, Breeze, and a third whale made there way east. Meanwhile, Crisscross and the two juvies, all of who were socializing with one another up until this point, decided to shift there attention on us. Over the next hour, these three whales curiously circled our boat and watched the passengers on deck as Captain Dave kept the vessel drifting out of gear. Over and over, this trio surfaced in a perfect row, positioned perpendicular to our beam while lifting their heads in and out of the water only a few feet off our port side (see photos). 

Mutual curiosity

There was no denying that these gentle leviathans were looking up at, not the boat but, the passengers on board. Once in a blue moon, we have the opportunity to experience magical moments such as these where we can look into the eyes of these mysterious mammals and watch them looking back at us. These unusual encounters remind us that we are interconnected with these animals in both spirit and fate; we have a responsibility to protect them and the environment we mutually rely on for resources.

Snaking behavior

You can protect our oceans using practical approaches such as buying locally, minimizing plastic use, and contributing to beach clean ups. If you live in Massachusetts, consider investing in a whale license plate! Proceeds from these plates go directly to disentanglement teams throughout Massachusetts and the Gulf of Maine. Come with us on a whale watch! Data collected on board is used to understand these beautiful animals, ultimately so we can better protect them!

— Tasia


April 10, 2016

Today aboard the Salacia with Captain Matt we headed out towards the bank. While we initially spotted a fin whale not too far away from Boston we again continued to spot a total of three right whales during the trip. All three were feeding on the surface and travelling in a small area. 

A North Atlantic right whale skim feeds

At one point we even had a right whale close to a group that included two fin whales and a small pod of Atlantic white sided dolphins! Once it was safe to do so, we slowly made our way out of the area and headed home.

Spout ahoy!

On our next trip we started heading somewhat north, again avoiding the spot where we had our right whale sightings earlier in the day but again found three right whales scattered around the area skim feeding. Since it didn’t seem like there was anything up north besides right whales and some shy Atlantic white sided dolphins we decided to head south, although there had been nothing in that area yesterday. Our patience was rewarded when, in the distance, one of the crew spotted a spout! In addition to at least two groups of fin whales we were lucky to find a humpback! 

This smaller whale was familiar and upon closer inspection looked to be one of our unknowns from last year-one we affectionately knew as unknown #30. Our last sightings for the day were of a couple of fin whales as we headed back in to Boston.

— Annie W and Kelsey


April 4, 2016

Today was a day to put down in the books for sure! We had a snowy adventure aboard the sanctuary with surprisingly calm seas. Captain Adam and I were excited to experience our first whale watches in the snow together and were determined to find whales! Captain Adam zigzagged back and forth across the bank while Kelsey and I, out in the elements, squinted through ski goggles in search of snow blows!

A first for many: A snowy whale watch with Kelsey and Tasia

Our efforts proved fruitful as we came across two humpback whales (my first humpbacks of the season!) and a nearby solo. We were pleased to identify the duo as Egret and a familiar unknown regular from last year. These humps appeared to be logging but soon started moving slowly south. We got to spend a lot of time with these whales as they traveled, giving eager guests beautiful views of their uniquely marked flukes!


Egret's fluke

As we made our way for Boston, passengers and crew alike warmed themselves with hot chocolate in the shelter of the cabins, watching the snow fly by the windows and into the ocean. We certainly had a whale watch to remember!

— Tasia


April 2, 2016

Spring time whale watching can be challenging, whether it’s the weather or the whales and the Salacia headed out towards Stellwagen Bank with hopefully only one of those challenges. Despite the pouring rain we soldiered on. After an initial look at a harbor seal in the harbor of all places we saw quite a few harbor porpoises (not in the harbor however) and at least one minke whale. 

Two whales and a dolphin

Finally after much searching we spotted the blow or spout of a larger whale and came on two fin whales that were circling and quite obviously feeding, at one point one of the animals surface with its mouth full of water much like the way we’re used to seeing humpback whales feed. These two fin whales circled surfacing predictably for some wonderful looks. Even better they were accompanied by 15-20 Atlantic white sided dolphins which would pop up a few seconds before the whales each time. Theses dolphins were great to watch and we even spotted a few tiny calves among the group. With a number of springtime species and tons of gannet sightings this morning’s whale watch was what every whale watcher dreams of.

A fin whale and a gannet

Heading out this afternoon the rain had abated a bit from the morning but the seas had picked up a little. We headed to the same area along the eastern edge of the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank where we’d had luck in the morning and this time spotted around 6-8 fin whale scattered throughout the area. These whales looked to be foraging widely, perhaps searching for patches of fish or other prey and seemed to be changing directions often. We got some excellent looks at a couple of fin early in the trip but we decided to continue to some other animals in the area. 

Northern gannets in flight

All through this area were flocks of northern gannets resting on the sea surface and in some cases even displaying their signature dive bombing behavior. We ended our trip with some excellent close looks a fin whale which turned out to be the same one we’d spotted early on in the trip just showing the distances these animals are able to travel in such short times.

Fin whale

The season is getting to a great start here on Stellwagen Bank and I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks will bring.