It’s been an interesting week. At times whale watching has been great, at other times it has been very difficult. Please let me explain….
The whales have been moving about the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary a lot, sometimes moving more than 15 miles from the morning trip to the afternoon trip! This makes deciding where to go to look for whales, and predicting how many whales you can expect to see on a given trip– or even what species of whales you might expect to see– challenging to say the least.
A Humpback Whale called “North Star” Diving. North Star, along with another whale named “Hippocampus” has been one of the most regularly sighted whales in our area.
The best way I can think to accurately explain just how variable our recent whale watches have been is to simply list what was seen on a trip-by-trip basis. Here goes:
August 7th and earlier: For nearly three weeks up until August 7th we were almost exclusively seeing the same two Humpback Whales, “North Star” and “Hippocampus,” on the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. Then something interesting happened…
Hippocampus flipper-slapping with North Star flipping his tail in the background.
August 8th: On the morning of August 8th we found North Star and Hippocampus in their usual spot, but soon we saw the blows of more whales heading our way from the south. Eventually three more Humpbacks joined with North Star and Hippocampus and for a brief period we had a group of 5 whales: North Star and Hippo, along with Cajun, Samara, and Komodo.
By that afternoon Cajun, Komodo, and Samara had split from North Star and Hippocampus but all 5 whales were now moving south along the Bank. I had a feeling this meant that our pair was finally leaving the area. Unfortunately I was right.
August 9th: On the morning of August 9th we went to Stellwagen Bank and found that North Star and Hippocampus had, indeed, moved on. Despite a diligent search neither they nor any other whale was found despite many boats looking.
In the afternoon we decided to go a different direction. Instead of going southeast towards Stellwagen bank we instead went north to another popular whale watching spot– a place called “Jeffrey’s Ledge”– where we found 4 Finback Whalesand 2 Minke Whales!
Two Finback Whales on Jeffrey’s Ledge.
August 10: On August 10th we spent both the morning and afternoon whale watches up north on Jeffrey’s ledge with a pair of Finback whales and a few Minke Whales. It was great to spend some time with Finbacks again. They are truly beautiful whales.
A “classic look” at the brilliant white jaw of a surfacing Finback Whale.
August 11th: On the morning of August 11th we once again headed north only to find that the Finback Whales had moved on. Again we searched many miles of ocean, but were unable to find a large whale. We did see a Minke Whale, but still decided to give “rain checks” to our passengers to come again because we didn’t spend much time with the Minkes… we really wanted to find a big whale!
A beautiful, calm day on the ocean… just with no whales in sight.
In the afternoon of August 11th we headed southeast towards Stellwagen Bank again. We had to travel over 25 miles but eventually we found a Humpback Whale– a whale called “Springboard”– who breached a number of times, then did some feeding, and then started traveling quickly to the west. Phew!
August 12th: On the morning trip we headed south and again found “Springboard” but this time she was moving very fast to the south, so as I write this blog on the way in from this trip I am honestly unsure where we will go this afternoon… Springboard may be very much out-of-range if she continues south at the rate she was going.
We will get reports from fishing vessels up north and perhaps head that way this afternoon. It’s honestly kind of fun trying to figure out where to go!
So as you can see things have been changing a lot from day-to-day. This makes it difficult to say what an “average” whale watch trip has been like over this past week or what the “average” number and species of whales seen has been. We have had some great trips with lots of whales, some trips where we have had to work hard to find just a couple of whales. We have even had two trips where wen were unable to find any whales at all! Again, this is exceptionally rare, especially in August.
Two Finback Whales in Ipswich Bay… just north of Gloucester, MA.
In fact, at the time of my writing this blog we have thus far done 122 whale watches this season. We have seen whales on all but 4 of them. So that’s a 96.7% success rate. That’s good… but not being able to find whales is always something that I take very hard. For those of you that came out one one of those trips I really hope you are able to use your free pass and come back again soon!
I think that it is important to point out, however, that this is all part of the nature-trip experience, and whale watching is a nature trip in the truest sense. We go out on the open ocean to look for wild and endangered creatures. It is fundamentally quite different than going to a zoo or aquarium where animals are kept in cages or pens and possibly trained to perform “tricks” on command.
Being wild animals that are free to roam the ocean at will gives whale watching and inherent unpredictability, and that’s all part of the fun, part of the adventure. We never know what to expect from one day to the next. It’s not always easy, but if it was then seeing a wild whale in its natural habitat wouldn’t be such a thrill. When whales are moving around a lot as they are now finding them can be a challenge, but the challenge is part of what makes whale watching great.