Aboard the Aurora with Captain Chip, we decided to head to the southern end of Stellwagen Bank. We stopped just north of the southwest corner where we came across dozens of tuna vessels intermingled with a couple whale watching vessels and a handful of humpback whales. Captain Chip made the wise decision to avoid the congestion and steered us over to a humpback trio just north of the fleet. We observed this lackadaisical trio in peace as Warrior, Bandit, and Kappa slowly made their way north.

humpback whales bandid and warrior swim together
Bandit and Warrior

While these three humpbacks are all mature adults, it was interesting to see how significantly their sizes varied. Bandit, smallest, surfaced more frequently than the other two who alternately accompanied their associate to the surface. Warrior, the largest of the group, swam alongside Bandit more closely and consistently (see photo) than Kappa who kept more distance. Warrior soon began exhibiting somewhat protective of Bandit, or perhaps she was agitated by him or Kappa. After trumpeting a bit, she stopped in place with a unique series of behaviors. She extended her long pectoral flippers to either side, rotating them, and then snaked her body (see photo). Similar behavior is sometimes exhibited by protective mothers with their calves in breeding grounds; however, the role of such behavior in this interaction was unclear.

humpback whale breaches in distance
Warrior breaches

Just as we were preparing to turn for Boston, Bandit initiated a breach sequence that was unlike any I have ever seen! Seemingly unprovoked, Bandit, flipper to flipper with Warrior, suddenly lurched his head high out of the water. Within milliseconds, Warrior mirrored Bandit with a higher and more powerful chin breach. Kappa, a couple body lengths from the jumping duo, responded immediately with a full spinning breach. Then came one of the most magnificent events I have ever witnessed. As if on cue, all three mature humpbacks came surging out of the water and high into the air, landing with a row of splashes that I thought might spray passengers! After another double breach, lots of screaming, clapping and maybe even some tears, Warrior continued breaching until she rolled over and began slapping her flippers on the surface of the water. By this time, Kappa had swam in the other direction, leaving Warrior and Bandit for us to bid adieu.

After having seen a triple breach right next to the boat, a once in a lifetime experience, the energy of the passengers and crew was electric. Passengers excitedly shared their pictures and videos with friends and strangers alike as we made our way back to Boston. What an unforgettable whale watch!

— Tasia

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