June 30

June 30th, 2015

From Naturalist Dianna

What an incredible day on Stellwagen Bank! After many trips of running 30 miles to see one or a couple of whales, today we were surprised with dozens of whales only about 17 miles from home!  Everywhere we looked, we saw spouts, tails, breaches and flippers. At one point, 4 whales were breaching all together, one right after the other! I’ve never seen anything like it.  Throughout the trip, we witnessed a pair of whales coming close to our boat and checking us out (Pinch and Powerline), a whale exhibiting some amazing kick-style and bubble cloud feeding (Reaper), a tail-lobbing whale (Colt) and many others just cruising through the area. We also had close approaches by a basking shark and a blue shark, and a minke whale in the distance. The shearwaters were out in force with Cory’s dominating the scene.  It was really wonderful to see Stellwagen come back to life! As we always say, every trip is different and we look forward to seeing what we’ll find tomorrow.

June 27

June 29th, 2015

From Naturalist Laura

Buona Fiesta! St. Peter’s Fiesta has taken over Gloucester this weekend! I spent my Fiesta Saturday on two whale watches.  After a few days of Scylla being the only humpback we could find on Stellwagen we were happy to see a few of our old stand by’s have moved back into the area.  Bilbo and her calf seem like they have been sleeping for about two weeks straight at this point.  Scylla was on southern Stellwagen and heading north (hopefully to meet us on the NW corner of Stellwagen sometime soon!).  And, Nile and Pitcher seemed like they were feeding along the ocean’s bottom, we think this occurs when a whale is continually switching directions, surfaces with a little more gusto than a typical surfacing, and you can see water pouring out of the sides of their mouth.

Viva!

June 26

June 26th, 2015

From Naturalist Laura-

It was a bit breezy out on Stellwagen today, but we still had a great trip.  We found Scylla bubble feeding in the middle of the shipping lanes.  The shipping lanes pass through Stellwagen Bank, and is the route that most of the large tankers and cruise ships take when they are coming into Boston.  Ship-strikes are one of the biggest threats to marine mammals in this area, and the shipping lanes were not always where they are today.  Previously, the shipping lanes ran about four miles to the south of the current route.  However, by using whale sightings from 1979-2002, which included a lot of data recorded from whale watching vessels (like ourselves), researchers realized the old shipping lanes were passing through an area of Stellwagen which historically had a high density of whales.  So, they concluded we could reduce the risk of ship-strikes by as much as 81% just by shifting the shipping lanes four miles to the north, where we typically have less whale sightings.  This slight re-routing only increases the transit time for ships by 9 to 22 minutes. Unfortunately, there are still days when whales like Scylla manage to wander into the shipping lanes, but overall we believe this shift was a small step that may have a big impact.

June 25

June 25th, 2015

From Naturalist Laura-Humpback

I am happy to report we were able to find a humpback whale on the Northwest corner of Stellwagen today! Scylla's fin

Scylla was spending extended amounts of time at the surface, and even doing a little bit of feeding.  The screen on the fish finder of the Miss Cape Ann was lit up with bright red and orange, indicating a lot of fish beneath the boat.  Hopefully, this is an indication that other whales will soon move into the area.

Scylla Humpback whales use Stellwagen Bank as a feeding ground, it is not a mating or calving ground.  The whales spend all summer here, feeding, before heading south to their breeding ground off the Caribbean.  It is very important for the whales to be feeding while they’re here; the entire time they are in the Caribbean they are fasting.  This is why we can attribute our sightings on a day to day, week to week, month to month, and even year to year basis on just if there is fish in the area.  If there is no fish here the whales do not want to be here and need to move on to another feeding ground.

June 22

June 23rd, 2015

From Naturalist Laura

fin whaleI had never seen a fin whale lifting its head out of the water, almost spyhopping, in order to filter feed, until today. It was another gorgeous day on Stellwagen, and we were lucky to have a fin whale that was overly amenable to our whale watching efforts. Twice, this animal brought its head out of the water, with the water pouring out of the sides of its mouth.

fin whale

It also stayed at the surface for an extended amount of time. Sometimes watching fin whales can be frustrating. A quick surfacing, far from the boat, and a long dive, can really wear on your patience. This was not the case today. Fingers crossed our fin whales are this good for the rest of the season!fin whale

June 20

June 21st, 2015

From Naturalist Laura-

Today I had my first two trip day of the season, signifying the fact that whale watch season is in full swing.  We found out on this morning’s trip that the whales that had been holding their ground on southern Stellwagen had moved.  The only whales left behind were Bilbo (also known as Spoon) and her calf, and even they had moved a bit further to the north.  Bilbo slept, for the third day in a row, while the calf traveled along side.Spoon and calf

For the afternoon trip, we decided to take a little bit of a risk, heading easterly to get a closer look at the northwest corner of Stellwagen.  In some years, we will spend the entire season on the NW corner, but this year, since we’ve had such a long ride to the south every day, we have barely even had time to look there for whales.  Our gamble paid off when we found two very large fin whales traveling together.  One of these individuals was Ladder, a male first sighted in 1984!Ladder

After spending a bit of time with this pair we continued to the south.  The wind and waves were picking up so we were relieved to find Bilbo and calf again.  Only this time, while Bilbo slept, the calf was tail breaching and lobtailing.  This calf is definitely starting to grow on me as the season progresses.Spoon 2015 calf

flippe

June 19

June 19th, 2015

From Naturalist Laura-

Consistency is the name of the game, right now, on Stellwagen Bank.  Consistency is great for the whales that we can identify, but day after day there are a few juveniles, kicking around, that are killing me because I can’t figure out who they are!  Today we had Wizard’s 2014 calf with Mostaza’s 2014 calf, and Bilbo and calf, and one unknown juveniles.  It is definitely a younger crowd on Stellwagen these days (minus Bilbo of course who we’ve been watching since the ’70’s).  I think we got a look at every part of Bilbo’s calf’s body, which kept spyhopping, presumably to get a look around above the surface.  While this was going on, Bilbo quietly logged.  It was another beautiful day on Stellwagen, it feels like summer might actually be here!

June 18

June 18th, 2015

From Naturalist Laura-

Apparently Bilbo (aka Spoon) and her calf  are going to be the “regulars” for the 2015 season.  We had another great trip on the Miss Cape Ann that started with this cow/calf pair.  We got to watch them logging, or sleeping, at the surface for quite a while.  This is always a nice way for passengers to really get a look at just how big these animals are.

Sighting conditions today were pretty good, so we were easily able to see other whales in the area.  We moved on to another pair of logging animals.  One of the animals, with a squared off dorsal, has also been a regular on our last few trips.  While we were watching these two, Wizard’s 2014 calf surfaced in the distance. We’ve had this whale a couple of times this season, and I’m happy we finally figured out who it is.

We decided to follow this individual, who lead us to Nile, Pitcher, and an unknown juvenile, all flipper slapping.  We also saw two bottling gray seals, which always seem to be every passenger’s favorite!

June 17

June 18th, 2015

From Naturalist Dianna

Today the whales were still a bit of a ways away on southern Stellwagen Bank but after a little bit of a ride on the mighty Atlantic Ocean, we were suddenly surrounded by whales. We certainly can’t control where the whales will be located, or what they will be doing but we were pleasantly surprised by our sightings today.

Our first whale was spotted by our captain. Although it never lifted its flukes, showing us who it was, the whale’s dorsal fin was quite unique so we expect to have an identity attached to this whale soon.

first humpback

We continued on to find even more humpback whales! Our next group was a mother and calf pair- the mom is knows as Spoon (or Bilbo by some groups) and she is my personal all-time favorite humpback whale.  Back in the day, well before I even knew that I wanted to study whales as a career, I had “adopted” Spoon through another research organization. Imagine my excitement when I first saw her for the first time in person during my first year of whale watching as a career! I was over the moon excited that “she does exist”! Now, over 20 years later, I still get just as excited to see Spoon, and even better this year to see her with a new calf to add to the population!

Spoon

Spoon

While we were watching the pair, a group of 3 showed up! These were Nile, Pitcher and a juvenile who has yet to be identified. Perhaps this is a new animal and might be named soon! This group was charging all around us, and at one point even came right at us!

Pitcher

Pitcher

Nile, Pitcher

Nile (above), Pitcher

Nile

Nile

juvenile

Unknown juvenile

Thanks to the curious passengers who joined us today. We hope to see you again sometime!

June 14- 2:00 trip

June 16th, 2015

From Naturalist Hannah-

Today was another long ride to the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank but it was definitely worth it. The seas were calm and the sun bright as we made our way south. There were reports of a few whales in that area from the morning trip but we were unsure as to what the whales were doing. Once we had the Provincetown tower in sight, we noticed a few ‘spouts’ or exhalations, meaning we had found whales! Stellwagen Bank is a common feeding location for large whales due to the upwelling currents that push deep, nutrient rich water to the surface.

Our first sightings were of a few humpback whales swimming alone. Humpbacks are a medium sized baleen whale reaching lengths of about 45 feet. They were not swimming particularly fast and their dive times were relatively short. This is great behavior for us as most of their life is spent beneath the surface! We were able to ID one of these single whales a Mostaza’s calf from last year. The calves get named after about 3 years because the fluke pattern can change a bit in the first few years. It is exciting to see this particular animal because it means that it successfully completed its first migration alone back to the feeding grounds.

We were also aware of a few groups of whales and decided to take a look. Our first group was a trio of whales that were IDed as Spoon, Spoon’s calf and an escort. These whales were swimming in an associated group- meaning their dive times and surfacing intervals were coordinated. This trio formed a group of 4 for a short period of time then broke back into a smaller number. Unlike toothed whales like dolphins, baleen whales (humpbacks included) are generally solitary but can form informal groups for a short period of time. These associations can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of days but they are very different from the tight family groups of toothed whales.

We ended our trip with another trio of whales including Pitcher and Nile.  Nile is a very well-known whale and had a calf last year. It is exciting to see these groups and the new calves each year. Humpback are one of many endangered baleen species of whales. Whaling caused a dramatic decrease in their population but luckily, the species is slowly recovering as calves continue to arrive each spring. We got a couple of good looks at this trio then made our turn back to Gloucester. In all, we saw 10-12 humpback whales and had an excellent day out on the ocean.