It was a fantastic day right on the very ridge of the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. We were clued in to the activity in the water by a bit of bird activity and could see small splashes here and there. A large pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins was working the large schools of sand lance in addition to many gulls and northern gannets. Before long, two minke whales began lunging and circling the bait, but then we were shocked to see half of a fin whale fluke break the surface as it rolled onto its side having been undetected beforehand. In fact, that whale completely disappeared from view for so long that we questioned that it was even a fin whale. How do you miss seeing the blow of a 60-foot long whale?

Diving gannets
Sand lance
Minke whale

We continued enjoying the dolphins and minke whales and were preparing to head home when a massive animal emerged from underneath the bow and a finback whale finally revealed itself and broke the surface for a breath! 17BP01 (meaning we cataloged this animal in 2017) thrilled passengers and crew alike with massive lunges and close approaches. A few gray seals looking for a snack as well as a sighting of a harbor porpoise and harbor seal made for a six marine mammal species trip.

We couldn’t wait to get back out there and by the afternoon the feeding frenzy had moved slightly west of the bank with the same cast of characters. The big difference was that our trip began with the fin whale lunging this way and that with a few lunges pointed straight toward the boat.

Fin whale lunging
fin whale lunging
Fin whale lunging

Two minkes joined again and this afternoon we noticed the sheer number of northern gannets, more than I’ve seen in a very long time. We also noticed that the finback would take a few lunges and then swim away from the birds and dolphins before circling back around – same direction each time – and we wondered exactly what that pattern might mean. I’ve really missed having the opportunity to observe these animals and try to figure out what might be going on in the small snippets of time that we have with them.

Feeding gannets

For all of you nature lovers, I recommend joining the Boston area as we compete with cities from around the world in the City Nature Challenge hosted on the iNaturalist app. The app is a great resource to connect with expert and hobby observers of animals and plants and is a fun spot to share photos but also a great resource to receive help identifying species in your hometown or away on travels. Check out for information on the challenge. Photos can be submitted through today (Monday, April 29).

– Laura L., Lina, and Rebekah