Whale Watch Log: May 31, 2016

This afternoon on board the Cetacea with Captain Jimmy, we set out for the bank with high hopes of finding whale activity. We kept our eyes glued to the horizon and were excited to spot the blow of a finback whale! We got our first nearby looks at this whale and then suddenly another finback whale popped up on the other side of the boat! 

After this, we played a strong game of whale ping-pong, cruising between sightings of the two finbacks in the area. This was a little tricky because the seas were building, and the whales were popping up very unpredictably. Luckily, our passengers pointed enthusiastic whenever they spotted a blow in the distance, which made it easier for us to keep track of the whales whereabouts. We noticed on our fish finder that the area was dense with fish within the first 40 feet of water, and possibly some larger fish lingering even deeper. I wouldn’t be surprised if the finwhales in the area were catching plenty of fish!

Finback whale side swim by

Our time was winding down and we were hoping to get one last look when all of a sudden one of the finbacks popped up right in front of the boat. Ordinarily, a whale popping up in front of the boat would be exciting on its own, but this look was even more amazing because the whale had lunged on its side! We almost never get to see the tail of a finback whale, but today we saw half of the fluke as the whale lingered on its side. We were in the right place at the right time to get another amazing look at the same behavior along our starboard side. This time the whale’s white belly was facing us for this rare and exciting sight! 

Another close look

The last 2 minutes of this whale watch had not only some of my personal best sightings of the season so far, but also the best sightings I’ve ever had of a finback whale!

Today was awesome!

— Annie Goodenough


Whale Watch Log: May 30, 2016

It looked like an afternoon of rainy whale watching, but Captain Billy and the passengers and crew on the Cetacea were treated to weather conditions that took quite the turn- in a good way! The rain cleared, fog thinned slightly, and we were able to spot one of two fin whales reported by the Asteria

16BP16 surfaces

We first slowed the boat to investigate a fin that broke the surface of the water. We discovered it was a minke whale, but soon found a fin whale that we suspected to be nearby. After realizing this whale was in the area, it snuck up on us with the next sighting just yards away from the starboard stern! We could clearly see the glowing green caused by the white color of the lower jaw under the screen of plankton in the water. Captain Billy watched where this whale as well as the two minkes we spotted swam, and noticed a circular pattern in one small area. Maybe chasing a large school of fish?

The afternoon brought us right back to the same whales- and we had great looks again. This time the whales moved a bit more erratically, and traveled for longer distances between dives than during our earlier time with them. One sighting of 16BP16’s left side revealed an interesting scar on its flank (see photo). The other naturalists and I hypothesized about what could have possibly caused it, but have yet to determine the origin. 

Sunset over Boston Light

Our ride home brought us dramatic views of the sunset against the lingering storm clouds- what a beautiful evening!

— Laura Lilly


Whale Watch Log: May 28, 2016

Today on the Sanctuary with naturalist Annie and Captain Adam we headed south in the direction of Provincetown following our sister ship the Asteria. We came across a fin whale that surfaced about a half mile just off our bow! When we slowed and waited for this individual to come back, a second fin popped up some distance away as well, making for two within about three quarters of a mile of one another.  

We were able to get some lovely looks at both of these individuals before continuing south to the tip of Cape Cod where we picked up a single juvenile humpback whale.  This individual was very unpredictable with its surfacings, coming up in all directions and at various distances away.  At one point we were within about a half mile of the beach, and the whale on the edge of 100 feet and 30 feet of water.  Our passengers got to spend some time on Cape Cod without even having to deal with the traffic!  

We got some great looks at this young humpback, which showed signs of a recent entanglement and was also quite possibly the same individual that was recently disentangled by the Marine Animal Entanglement Response team. Watch a video from a GoPro of the team at work!  Keep in mind that this team is comprised of highly trained individuals and work under special government permits to help these animals. If you ever come across a marine animal in distress, the best thing to do is to report it to the local authorities so that the proper people can come out and help.  Out in Stellwagen, the best way to do that is to contact the MAER’s hotline at 1-800-900-3622, or radio the coastguard on VHF channel 16.

Beautiful sunset over Boston

We came back into Boston with a beautiful sunset behind the city!

— Heidi and Annie


The first evening whale watch of the 2016 season was made a reality by the efforts of Captain Jim and the Cetacea pack.  9 miles northwest of Provincetown we were elated to witness a towering spout punctuate the blue uniformity , proudly catching the evening sun like a flag unfurled.  It’s creator bears the charming moniker 16BP08, but the familiarity of the name was in contrast to the unpredictable nature of its bearer.  Between dives of 6-9 minutes this whale would resurface heading northwest, northeast, southwest, north, and south!

This solitary forager mingled neither with the minke who passed just off our bow or with a distant fin whale further south.  The rorqual sought not the company of a bipedal third species atop the surface, but it nonetheless displayed the enormity of its flanks with each graceful dive.  

Blow holes

The travel patterns of this character seemed to delineate the western ledge of Stellwagen Bank, but before we could further hypothesize on subsurface motives the animal dove west without any further sighting.  The thrill of finding oneself in the company of giants is inexhaustible, and we hope for many similar experiences to come!

— Rich


Whale Watch Log: May 25, 2016

This afternoon on board the Sanctuary with Captain Dave, we travelled out to where the Asteria had some luck! Thankfully, the fog had cleared from this morning and the visibility had opened up enough for us to find several scattered finback whales. 

Finback whale

We first spend time with 16BP08 who has a very unique dorsal fin with two distinct clips. This whale was travelling randomly around the area and took mostly 5-6 minute dives. This whale spent plenty of time at the surface catching its breath between dives, and passengers were excited to catch a glimpse at the whale’s chevron along its right side. 

We decided to check out the other whales in the area and were able to identify 16BP07 and 16BP13 as well! These two were surfacing at almost the same time, but usually a few hundred yards away from each other. I’d be curious to know if they were vocalizing at all below the surface to coordinate their surfacings. Upon closer inspection of my photos of 16BP13, you can make out his open eye just below the surface (see photo)!

— Annie


Whale Watch Log: May 23, 2016

The ocean today was glass calm with rolling swells and great visibility. Under such favorable conditions, we were able to spot two separate minke whales where yesterday’s finners were spotted. These minkes spent a few minutes reoxygenating at the surface between approximately four minute dives which offered us plenty of time to observe them. One of these minkes was rather unusual looking and had, what could only be described as, an underbite (see photo).

Minke whale

What was remarkable today was the unusually close and clear looks at both of these whales. Minke whales are known to be somewhat erratic and unpredictable with their movements, so it was great to be able to spend the time observing this interesting individual. With their quick movements, it is easy to pass them by on our trips without closely noticing differences between them, as slight or as obvious as they may be. 

Deep breathing

Hopefully this whale will remain in the area throughout the season and allow for more observation.

— Tasia and Laura


Whale Watch Log: May 22, 2016

Our sightings this morning started off early. Miles before the bank we came across an enormous fin whale! 

Fin whale blow — close approach!

This animal appeared to be foraging along the edge of a small seamount west of the bank. Interestingly, we observed huge schools of mackerel (see photo), but it wasn’t clear whether or not this fin whale was feeding on these schooling fish. 


We were approached by a second fin whale that made it very clear by the scat it left at the surface that it was certainly feeding, but we observed no active surface feeding behavior despite the large schools of mackerel in the area. On what was supposed to be our last looks of our fin whales, one of these animals surfaced right next to the boat, surprising everyone on board with a powerful exhalation! Lorna, Kelsey and I squealed with excitement like little girls at such a close approach by this gorgeous animal! As Lorna then pointed out, you know you’re seeing something really special when your naturalists are freaking out (which we were)!

Fin whale
Fin whale left head
Fin whale right head

We spent our afternoon trip with this same fin whale as it appeared to be searching the area, traveling back and forth just south of the underwater hill where it foraged on our morning trip. Thanks to Captain Earl, we were able to have great views of this behemoth despite its unpredictable surfacings. 

Fin whale

We noticed two other fin whales enter the area as the bird activity began heating up this afternoon. Since birds often feed on the same food as whales, we hope this is a sign of more whales to come in the days ahead!

— Tasia


Whale Watch Log: May 21, 2016

The 11:00am trip with Captain Dave started the Cetacea’s whale watching season off with a splash! After scanning the horizon, we spotted a tall blow from a distance of about 3-4 miles. As we approached, we could see the whale make its way to the surface in a somewhat random fashion. A closer approach confirmed that we were coming up to a fin whale! 

Upon photographing the markings and dorsal fin of this whale, we realized it was 16BP04, the same fin whale observed on the previous day as well as earlier in the season. The fin whale continued to swim in a somewhat erratic fashion, leaving us guessing as to where it would return to the surface after each dive.

After observing our friend 16BP04 for a while, we noticed another fin whale in the distance. We began to approach closer, however our initial fin whale remained close by and surfaced frequently, while the second spent more time beneath the depths. We decided to stay with our initial mysticete, who began swimming in semi-circular patterns, indicating feeding. As we began to wrap up our day on Stellwagen, bait began to bubble just yards away from the bow of the Cetacea, and suddenly the fin whale lunged upward in complete protest to the laws of gravity. We could see the ventral pleats fully expanded as the whale slowly submerged and circled around for more.

May we be graced with legions of lofty leviathans in the days to come!

— Laura L & Rich


Whale Watch Log: May 20, 2016

This afternoon on board the Sanctuary with Captain Dave we were fortunate to find whales close to home pretty far west of the bank. We were lucky to spend plenty of time with a finback whale who was taking short dives and spending a good amount of time at the surface.

Note the chevron pattern on the back

The water was calm so we could very easily see the whale’s footprints as it made semi-circles beneath the surface, perhaps corralling fish! 

We happened upon a large minke whale about halfway through the trip, and were even able to see this whales minke mittens on its pectoral flippers at it swam along our starboard side! In true minke form, this whale disappeared for the rest of the trip. Regardless we enjoyed sightings of the finbacks in the area! There was a second finback who was quite a bit larger who was taking longer more sporadic dives. 

On the way home we spotted a harbor seal! All in all it was a beautiful day on the water.

— Annie & Laura


Whale Watch Log: May 17, 2016

After facing quite turbid sea conditions over the past few days, the Salacia crew and I were excited to get underway in fair winds and calm seas. Our search took us to the far side of Stellwagen Bank, just north of the southeast corner, where we encountered a large pod of energetic Atlantic white-sided dolphins! 

Energetic Atlantic white-sided dolphins

These dolphins, broken into smaller groups, were distributed across a large area where we encountered three additional marine mammal species! 

Fin whale

We first spotted a quick minke whale followed by two separate lunge feeding fin whales! Last but not least, a humpback whale named Basin surfaced amongst these dolphins, only to dive back to the depths it came from.

As we waited for Basin to return from its dive, we watched dolphins surface and feed all around the boat. A few dolphins repeatedly breached in groups of three (see photo).  We also spotted a couple calves swimming alongside their mothers, as they weaved in and out of one another’s paths. The dolphin entertainment was welcomed between Basin’s long dives which we suspected were fishing pursuits. 

On one dive return, Basin surprised us with an open mouth lunge followed by a brief bout of kick feeding! On our last looks of Basin, this illusive feeder surfaced right next the boat giving guests beautiful views of its flukes before we made our way back to Boston! It was a beautiful and exciting day on the water!

— Tasia


Today’s 12pm trip aboard the Asteria began heading toward our 10am’s trips sightings, however as we approached the SW corner of the bank, we spotted a solo traveling humpback (as well as a few minkes), who we identified as Pinch. 

Pinch's fluke

The glassy seas gave us nice looks of this whale, and we could easily observe Pinch’s distinct flank – which has some interesting speckled white scars alongside its body (as well as a notch in front of its dorsal fin). I’m unsure of what these marking could be from, but as far we could tell, this whale appeared healthy and it’s skin-condition and/or skin-scarring doesn’t seem to effect it.

Pinch's freckled flank
After spending time with this humpback, we decided to head a little further east where the Salacia had been. On our trek further east, we start to see some splashing for a distant lobtailing/tail breaching whale, as well as a smaller whale rolling around. We had heard reports from another whale watch about a humpback mom/calf pair, so we were hopeful to see who this pair might be. As we approached closer, we were completely surprised to find that this was a mother and calf North Atlantic right whale pair!  

Right whale mom "Dragon" and calf as ID'd by the
New England Aquarium right whale research team.

Though our encounter was brief (regulations require boats to stay 500 yards away, so we did not stay with this pair – please note that our photos are zoomed-in and cropped), it was happy moment to get to observe a new right whale calf. 

Right whale mom and calf synchronized diving
Right whale mom's fluke

Recently a right whale calf was found dead off the coast of Cape Cod. Preliminary results of the animals autopsy (known as a necropsy) found several large propeller wounds suggesting a boat strike likely before death. Right whales face many threats, so I am hopeful this calf today has a brighter future in the years to come. If you observe closely on the photo of the mom and calf synchronized diving, you can actually see an entanglement scar on the calf’s tailstock, which is the other huge threat large whales face in the Gulf of Maine.

Our trip ended with a sighting of a fin whale, making it a four species marine mammal day! We also spotted common loons and northern gannets out on the bank.

— Laura


Whale Watch Log: May 14, 2016

Today was all about the fin whales. These whales are the second largest animals to ever live on earth, the only asymmetrically colored mammals, and the greyhounds of the sea. They don’t have the boisterous presence of a humpback whale but their understated elegance can’t be diminished. 

Mom and calf fin whales

The 10am whale watch headed out on board the Salacia to the middle part of Stellwagen Bank and found 4-5 fin whales scattered through the area. One of the hardest parts of watching fin whales is how difficult it is to tell individuals apart but they do have natural markings – the chevron patch just above the shoulder blade and scars and nicks along the dorsal fin. 

Chevron patch

One of the whales that featured heavily in all of today’s trips is an individual that I know that I saw back in 2014 as well. The highlight of the morning’s trip by far was getting great looks at a fin whale mother and her calf. We don’t see many fin whale calves on Stellwagen Bank so every sighting is always very special. The 2pm whale watch headed out to the same area and again found around 4-5 fin whales scattered through the area. 

Fin whales

We spent some time with two individuals with quite distinct dorsal fin scars which will aid in keeping track of when we see these animals in the future. The wind seemed to pick up during these trip and the whales’ surface intervals, the time at the surface between dives, decreased dramatically to even just a breath or two between long dives. While frustrating for the whale watcher it’s an amazing display of these animals’ breath holding abilities. As ever it was a fantastic day on the water with these amazing whales.

Northern gannet: Not only about whales, seabirds, too!

— Tegan


Today we had a beeeaaauutiful day offshore with bright sunny skies and pleasantly calm seas.  Captain Adam and Captain Deb brought us right to the edge of the middle of Stellwagen Bank where we found several fin whales milling around.  

Fin whales can be quite tricky to watch, but all of these individuals were actually quite cooperative, surfacing for several slow breaths and taking relatively short dives.  Given that these animals looked to be traveling in wide circular patterns and that we were right on the edge of the bank, it’s very possible that they were engaging in some sub-surface feeding.

We saw approximately five different individuals, three singles spread out, and – my favorite part of the trip – a mother and calf pair!  With calm water and lots of sunlight, we were able to get excellent views of these beautiful animals and their white right jaws and chevron patterns.  At one point you could even make out the white on their flippers just beneath the surface and see the outline of the flukes.  If you’re gonna see fin whales, you definitely want to have a day like today!

— Heidi


Whale Watch Log: May 11, 2016

Today on the Asteria we had a beautiful day offshore! The calm seas and sunny skies gave us incredible visibility, and we spotted several harbor porpoise, common loons, and gannets on our way out to Stellwagen Bank. We had to travel quite far today – east of the southeast corner, but it was well worth the travel! 

Bayou's mangled tail

Our first sightings of humpbacks were the splashes of three whales BREACHING in the distance! As we approached they slowed down and began to travel (amidst some logging humpbacks), and I identified this trio as Bayou, Glo-Stick, and Osprey. Bayou is very notable from her unfortunate propeller wound, missing half her fluke (see photo). Glo-Stick is also a reminder of the problem of ship strike for whales – her grandmother Istar was found dead a few years ago due to a likely ship strike off the coast of Long Island.

Underwater visitor
After spending time with this trio, we moved on to some other humpbacks, Basin and an unknown humpback that swam near our boat briefly. This mystery humpback that briefly joined Basin never actually exhaled and the surface, but hung just below the water near our boat (see photo).

Tracer kick feeding

Wyoming kick feeding

The spectacular finale to our trip today was two kick feeding humpbacks, Wyoming and Tracer. After a period of quiet calm seas, it was exciting to see these whales do some high tail thrashing, and then join briefly to form a huge bubble net and come open mouth lunge feeding at the surface (see photo).

Enormous bubble net
Filter feeding at the surface

Another great day on the bank!

— Laura


Whale Watch Log: May 10, 2016

We enjoyed another glorious day whale watching this morning on the Salacia! Although we had to extend our search for whales a bit further east than usual, there were plenty to be found! Near the the eastern edge of the bank, north of the southeast corner, we found a multispecies feeding frenzy!

Humpbacks, fin whales, and dolphins alike feasted their hearts out on a plethora of sand lance as birds hovered overhead, hopeful to snag some scraps. Animals of all sizes competed for their catch, overlapping in time and space, so much so that, at one point, I thought a fin whale had created a bubble net! 

Pinch kick feeding
Pinch chin slap

We spotted a few familiar flukes among the humpbacks including Viking, Basin, and Pinch. We observed fin whales lunging powerfully across the water’s surface alongside kick feeding and bubble netting humpbacks. All the while, dolphins weaved in and out of the chaos appearing carefree and majestic as always.

Dolphins, graceful and agile as always

Guests were treated to some exceptional views into the mouths of humpback whales today, an opportunity not had by many. On three occasions a trio of humpbacks unexpectedly lunged nearly into the side of the boat without the usual bubble net precursor. 

Big lunge
Pinch chin kick
I suspected that perhaps the fish were just beneath the boat, and Captain Matt kept us floating along as we waited for the humpbacks to pounce on their prey beneath us. We cruised back to Boston across glassy calm waters while enjoying one of our first warm spring days here in New England!

— Tasia