Last September, one of the most famous whales in New England, a humpback female named Echo, was spotted seriously entangled in fishing gear. At the time, she still had a calf with her and was not seen again. Laura Howes, Director of Marine Education and Conservation for Boston Harbor Cruises and the New England Aquarium Whale Watch, said, “We were worried that she had a lethal injury.”

Last Saturday, Howes headed out with the Aquarium’s first whale watch of the season in a light cold rain. Hundreds of passengers were on board in search of marine mammals and unusual sea birds at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, one of the world’s top whale watching destinations, just 25 miles east of Boston and north of the tip of Cape Cod.

fluke from humpback whale named echo
Echo's fluke

A couple of right whales were first spotted seen skim feeding at the surface. Given their critically endangered status, the whale watch vessel moved away from the plankton-feeding pair. Shortly after, the crew made their first humpback whale sighting of the season. A trio of the 40-50 foot long whales with their enormous white flippers were lazily traveling about and even hung out near the Boston Harbor Cruise vessel. As they dove and showed their flukes, the naturalists on board, including Howes, started identifying individual whales by the patterns that are unique to the dorsal and tail fin of each humpback whale. They noticed a distinctive set of vertical, dark hash marks on the front edge of the left fluke of one of the animals. It resembled the print-out of an echo-wave of a dolphin or a bat. That was the signature and telltale feature for identifying Echo the humpback, which some feared might be dead given the complexity of her entanglement and her disappearance over the previous six months.

Just as Echo was confirming Echo’s identity, Laura Lilly, a second naturalist on board, cheered in excitement, “She’s alive!” Howes stated, “Echo definitely has some new scars, but it was such a relief to see her back, especially so early in the season!”

The Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown, which had spotted Echo entangled last fall, acknowledged that it was the first sighting of her since last September. CCS believes that the pictures taken indicate that Echo is gear free. However, after a long and difficult winter, there was excitement to see that an old friend, who was first seen at Stellwagen in 1988, is still alive and kicking.