August 17

What a hot day on land today! It was a perfect day with glassy calm seas to escape the heat out on Stellwagen bank. Both of our trips brought us pretty far down south, just off the trip of Cape Cod.

In the morning trip, we started off with an awesome up close view of an ocean sunfish, also known as a mola mola! These fish are the largest bony fish species, can easily grow up to a couple thousand pounds, and feed primarily on jellyfish. After our cool sunfish sighting, we continued on further down the bank. We did pass another sunfish, what appeared to be a blue shark from the quick look I got, as well as a couple of minke whales as we continued down the bank. We didn’t stop for any sightings of these animals because we wanted to have plenty of time to spend with the larger whales! As we made our way further, we came across numerous blows – we had a group of humpback whales.

In our group, we had Cajun (a 17 year old female) and her new calf that was born sometime in late December or early January. This is Cajun’s third calf. The pair actually swam right through some buoys at one point, which was scary, as they could have easily become entangled in the gear! Thankfully Cajun and her calf made it through safely. Our group also had Pele, a whale with a very distinctive tail (has a perfect circle on the left tail fluke that looks like a soccer ball), first seen by researchers in 1997. The fourth member of our group was Milkweed. Milkweed is one of the whales who is currently part of the Center for Coastal Studies’ tagging project. She had a satellite tag on the left side of her back that I didn’t notice at first because it was pretty small. Their current project is being done in order to investigate the most effective tag type that will stay on the whale the longest as well as have the most minimum impact to the whale. As we were watching our group of 4 at around 1 o’clock, there was another whale around 3-4 o’clock going on a dive. I believe this is the same whale who joined our group for our last looks. As we had our last surfacing before departing, there were 5 whales instead of 4 in the group. That fifth whale was Gladiator. Great sightings!

Our afternoon trip brought us to the same place as we were in the morning, and even though there were blows all around, we started off our trip with a quick look at whale who was doing a couple of breaches and flipper slapping in the distance. As we approached, the whale stopped this behavior and we just got a quick look as the whale dove down – it was Gladiator! We moved on from Gladiator and went to another blow in the area – again as we approached this whale dove down and we only got a quick look as it went on a deeper dive. This second whale was Eraser, first seen in 2007. We didn’t stick around with Eraser for too long, as we had a group of four in the area. Our group was Cajun and her calf, Pele, and a fourth unknown whale that I couldn’t match to a whale in the catalog. We watched this group swim all around us, and twice they surfaced so close to our port side, swam around our stern and then dove down on the right side! They were so close you could hear them inhaling – we got such good views! We even got one surprise full breach from the calf, who breached just off our bow! Our group of whales also kept coming up lunging their heads slightly out through the water at first, which leads me to believe that these whales were doing a bit of feeding under the water. They stuck their heads out first in order to filter out the water with their baleen plates. Really awesome up-close and personal views today!

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