July 23, 2014

It has been a long time since we have had this many whales on the northern corner of Stellwagen Bank. Of course we are hoping they will remain close by, but we have already noticed the whales moving around a bit more. Early in the week we were watching whaleseach day in almost the exact same location as the previous day, and by yesterday they had moved by a couple of miles.

Milkweed's very active calf

Milkweed’s very active calf

We watched as humpbacks Aerospace, Jabiru, Bayou, Pele, and Milkweed swam nearby, possibly looking for food while Milkweed’s calf gave us an exciting experience. S/he breached repeatedly before moving on to tail¬† breaches and a series of rolls.

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It’s not clearly understood why whales breach or engage in these other types of surface activity, but one thought that sometimes calves are more playful, especially while Mom is looking for fish to eat (the calves are typically still nursing on the mother’s milk at this point in the season). Whatever the reason, we had an exciting trip with great looks at all of the whales who were out there. As we have seen throughout this season, things have changed very rapidly. More than once in 2014 the whales have stayed in a relatively small area for days at a time, only to travel far overnight. What is exciting about whale watching is that no two trips are alike, even from morning to afternoon. We certainly enjoy every day as they come.

The calf did some surfacings and breaches with its mouth wide open- practicing using that baleen to feed later on?

The calf did some surfacings and breaches with its mouth wide open- practicing using that baleen to feed later on?

July 18, 2014

The sightings recently have been so amazing- sometimes I wonder how long they can possibly last, but we are enjoying every minute of our trips lately! This morning in particular we had 25 or more humpback whales feeding as far as our eyes could see. Many of the whales were kick feeding, and it is so neat to see how each individual has a unique pattern of kicks before coming up to the surface, mouths wide open. This week we have seen the whales feeding on sand eels. We got a good look at one unlucky sand eel as a bird picked one up and swooped by the side of the boat.

 

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You can see the baleen, expanded ventral pleats, and one little sand eel in the middle

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Two humpbacks come up through a bubble net

In addition to the number of whales, the quality of sightings has been just fantastic. There is nothing like watching whales around us, but when one surprises us and surfaces RIGHT next to us, it is such an exciting feeling. We were lucky enough today to have a couple of bubble nets form on either side, with whales coming up just yards away.

Polaris (left) dives deep next to Treasure.

Polaris (left) dives deep next to Treasure.

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A passenger asked me if whales ever come any closer than they already were- soon after three humpbacks created a bubble net and fed just feet away!

During our afternoon trip we were also treated to a whale flipper slapping and breaching before watching the feeding frenzy going on about a mile away.

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Whales after open mouth feeding in the foreground, a whale ‘dragging’ (swimming and allowing water to stream through baleen), and another pair in the distance

 

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Thank you to CAWW’s good friend, Julian for this photo of a humpback named T-Rex breaching!

July 7, 2014

Both the morning and afternoon trips today were fantastic! We started in the morning wondering if we would have to travel far to find the whales like we have in the past couple of weeks. Spending the day with wild animals, you never really know where they will be or what they will be doing. We happened to stop on one humpback, sooner than what we had expected! We quickly realized there were a number of whales in the area- maybe 10-15 humpbacks, as well as a few minke whales! We were able to spend time with whales we identified as W, Iris, Warrior, and Pele for most of the morning trip, including lots of feeding!

A humpback lunges through a patch of bait fish.

A humpback lunges through a patch of bait fish.

The afternoon was just as great. We saw a few of the same whales, and were also able to add Thread to the list, as well as Tornado and her calf. We were having a great time when this little whale breached right next to us, not once, but four times! We noticed mom bubble feeding nearby.

A gull catches a ride on a humpback while others search for a fish to snack on.

A gull catches a ride on a humpback while others search for a fish to snack on.

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Two humpbacks surface as they feed.

It was just amazing to be watching a couple of whales at one time, and to see so many in the background, near and far. Today’s trips were definitely a treat, and reminded us just how incredible these animals are.

June 20, 2014

What an incredible day! With beautiful weather and clear skies, we had a good feeling it would be a great day, but we couldn’t ask for more than the sightings we had today. We began with humpbacks Dome and Rapier feeding. After watching these two whales (who were staying in the same general area as each other), we decided to continue on to see what else we could find. And wow! We could see whales breaching from miles away! As we approached, we realized there was a large amount of humpbacks in one very concentrated area. Most of them were feeding, in fact almost all were kick feeding, which is when the whales slap their fluke on the surface to stun fish to feed on. We must have seen 25 or more humpbacks, and had amazing looks at about 20!!! Below I will include the flukes we were able to photograph and identify- I will be looking at photos of dorsal fins and feeding whales this weekend to see if I can ID any other individuals. Just amazing!

Dome

Dome

Tunguska

Tunguska

Tear

Tear

Snowplow

Snowplow

Rapier

Rapier

Putter

Putter

Duo

Duo

Warrior

Warrior

Ase

Ase

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So many breaches today!

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Chin breach

 

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Humpback whale at the surface after feeding.

Humpback whale dragging- taking a huge mouthful of seawater and letting the water pour out the sides of the mouth.

Humpback whale dragging- taking a huge mouthful of seawater and letting the water pour out the sides of the mouth.

 

World Oceans Day!

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Feeding Humpbacks!!!! That sums up World Oceans Day! The humpbacks were celebrating sand eels today!

 

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At one point today, we were surrounded by 20 feeding whales! There was a group of 3 adults (Glostick, Jabiru, and Pleats) that were feeding together. Glostick was kick feeding and she did 5 kicks, getting bigger and bigger, blew bubbles and then all three whales would surface. After seeing that many times, they started lunge feeding. We would see the sand eels jump out of the water, followed quickly by a few bubbles and then three lunge feeding humpbacks!! Glostick is one of this year’s mom and her calf was just hanging out at the surface. He or she breached a few times and also did a few tail breaches. So exciting!!

 

Another large group of whales was moving around feeding together. At some points, I think there were 7 whales in the group! Cajun, Geometry, Orbit, Pepper to name a few. It’s always amazing to see that many animals feeding together. It’s so interesting that Cajun was in this group because a few years ago, there was a large group of humpbacks staying together, and again Cajun was part of the group–two years in a row.

 

We also saw Dome kick feeding. Echo and her calf were also out there feeding as well. It was truly an amazing day! Flat calm, and lots of whales! Can’t wait until tomorrow!!!

June 7, 2014

What a great day today! We had two completely different trips in the morning and afternoon, both with awesome sightings.

The day started out with an amazing look at a fin whale. This whale was swimming very slowly and staying close to the surface for a long time, allowing us to be able to appreciate just how large they are! At one point, we could see almost the entire whale under the water, with an especially clear look at the fluke.

Fin whales have great coloring on the top of their bodies, and you can see the white color of the lower right jaw.

Fin whales have great coloring on the top of their bodies, and you can see the white color of the lower right jaw.

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Have your camera ready!

From there, we noticed another whale nearby. It looked like a minke whale, but it did not have a dorsal fin. As we were able to take some closer looks, we realized that the whale had a huge white scar where the dorsal fin should have been, and also had propeller scars on its back. Unfortunately, it this whale is an example of a number of threats that whales face. The scar looked to be old and healed over, and this minke was swimming quite quickly. We then viewed our third species of the day,  humpbacks! We started with Cardhu, a female well known to Stellwagen Bank, and also in the area was Mogul.

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Our first sighting of Mogul this season!

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We spotted the family of eider ducks living in Gloucester Harbor on our way back to the dock.

The first whale we watched on our afternoon trip was Amulet, and then Measles, two humpbacks that have been spending a lot of time in the area lately. We also saw a number of seals in the area. With a lot of bird activity as well, we could see evidence of a large amount of bait fish in the area.

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It is clear why Measles has its name!

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A grey seal taking in the day.

In addition to Amulet and Measles, we also watched an association between two whales. One was easily identified as Pleats, as she is another whale with propeller scars. It is unfortunate to have seen two whales that have sustained these kind of injuries but it allows us to talk about the challenges marine animals face. Pleats and the other whale went for a dive and we were wondering where they might be, when suddenly Pleats appeared in front of us flipper slapping!

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The scarring on Pleats’ back is best viewed from the right side, but also noticeable from this angle.

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Shortly after this surface activity, the association ended and the two whales swam on their own.

We were really hoping to get a look at the other whale’s fluke to ID it, but it did not fluke up at all! Our only shot was when the two whales were swimming parallel to the boat, and we got a tiny glimpse of one side. By looking at the marking at the top, as well as another photo of the whale’s dorsal fin, we were able to ID this whale as Jabiru! On the way back to the harbor, we also stopped briefly to take a quick glimpse of a basking shark. Awesome day!

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Sometimes we don’t have a lot to work with when identifying whales.

 

June 1, 2014

We traveled east of Stellwagen Bank to Tillies Bank and had some great sightings! Our sightings have been fantastic lately, with up to about 15 whales in one area. As we traveled east, there were many patches of bait fish swimming at the surface. This is a neat thing to see, but it made me hopeful for seeing open mouth feeding. We were not disappointed! We found a humpback whale (Hancock) and were quickly treated to amazing looks as he fed repeatedly on the large amount of mackerel in the area. We noticed that the bubble nets he created were near the edge of the schools, rather than right in the middle. At first thought, you might wonder why he wouldn’t swim right in the middle of the fish, but many of these types of behaviors are very calculated. We were thinking that he was trying not to create gaps and break the fish up into smaller groups. Fascinating to think of how much careful planning and thinking goes on with these whales every day!

First of  three in one series of open mouth feeding photos!

First of three in one series of open mouth feeding photos!

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In addition to Hancock, there was also another humpback in the area. This whale did not fluke up, so we haven’t been able to identify it. It was traveling a bit faster and surfacing far, so we stayed near a spot which left us surrounded by fin whales and minke whales! We actually watched a fin whale lunge feed- fin whales use baleen in the same way that humpbacks do, however they do not create bubbles nets or bubble clouds. As we were watching the fin whales, a minke passed by very close to the boat. It swam along the starboard side, dove under for a moment, and slowly passed right next to the port side. We had a great look as it made its way toward a patch of bait.

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A great look at a minke whale, including the ‘minke mittens’- minke pectoral fins are quite a bit smaller than a humpback’s!

We were already feeling spoiled with a great trip when we spotted not one, but two basking sharks on the way home! With the glass calm water we had super looks. Even after seeing all of the large whales, these sharks looked enormous! They were probably close to 25 feet long. We have been especially lucky early in the 2014 season, we really have enjoyed every trip!

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