Today was truly a remarkable day from start to finish. Stellwagen Bank, which is a marine sanctuary off of the coast of Massachusetts, was literally teeming with life. We were lucky enough to not only see dozens of large, hungry humpback whales, but also a wide variety of pelagic birds as well. When you compare the size of an adult humpback whale to the seabirds it’s rather amazing to think about how they’re all here to feed on the same exact thing, the American sandlance or “sandeel”.
We arrived on the bank just as the whales were taking part in some serious surface feeding. I’ve been watching whales for 16 years now and seeing this behavior is still one of my favorite things to see. Just being able to watch these amazing animals in their natural habitat displaying natural behaviors is pretty special. These whales are only doing what they need to do in order to survive another day, but yet it’s one of nature’s greatest displays in my opinion. This is especially true when the whales choose to blow their large bubble nets within feet of the boat giving us incredible up close and personal looks.
A whale pile up! It amazes me sometimes how close the whales are when they’re feeding cooperatively. Surely they must be bumping into each other, but they seem to be ok with it as long as there’s enough food to go around.
In the afternoon the surface feeding had slowed down dramatically and was much more scattered and hard to predict, but there were still dozens of whales to watch. One in particular surprised us by doing a nice, full body breach pretty close to the boat. This is yet another one of nature’s greatest displays. Seeing a 40-50 ton mammal launch itself clear of the water… wow, I can only imagine how much power it must take!
While the whale’s feeding behaviors had quieted down a lot, the birds on the other hand were still very actively feeding at the surface. We saw several different species of birds including Shearwaters (Great, Sooty, and Cory’s), a Parasitic Jaeger, hundreds of Common Terns, and of course loads of gulls. The Terns in particular were very impressive to watch as they would swoop down to the surface and catch a fish.
Days like this are few and far between. This is the whale’s feeding ground, but yet surface activity as we witnessed today just doesn’t happen as often as I’d personally like to see. That just makes these encounters that much more special that’s for sure!
This story was adapted from a blog post. Read the original here