Today was one of my most exciting days of the season! Aboard the Aurora we headed out the SW corner of Stellwagen, and on our way the Asteria gave us a tip of a large sea turtle that they spotted on their way home. This turned out to be a huge leatherback turtle! This is only my second sea turtle encounter in seven seasons of whale watching, and we were lucky to spend quite some time with it!

Leatherback turtles are the largest of all sea turtles, measuring up to 6 feet and weighing up to 1,000 pounds. Unlike other sea turtles, they lack a bony shell, and so its carapace is covered by a leathery-oily flesh, with vertical ridges. They are also the only warm-blooded sea turtle, able to regulate the body temperature 10-15 degrees so they can withstand colder water than other turtles.

  1. leatherback sea turtle

    Leatherback sea turtle

  2. leatherback sea turtles

  3. leatherback sea turtle

Also as many of you know, today was also a partial solar eclipse in Massachusetts. Knowing that we were going to be right in the sun during this event, I decided to make some simple pinhole-shadow viewers (just a simple piece of paper with a hole-punch) so that all passengers could safely view the eclipse. It was great to see everyone working together to watch the eclipse – which coincidentally happened right during our time on whales! So in-between looks of our 10-15 humpbacks, passengers were also watching the shadow crescents (we could even watch through the smaller grating on our third deck – see pic), and many people were kind enough to share their special eclipse-viewing sunglasses so everyone could get a look. It was a wonderful group activity! We also had Perseid and calf, Tobaggan, Infinity, Crisscross, and UFO all approach our boat up-close – so often it was hard to decide whether to check out the whales, or check out the eclipse!

A special thank you to the Aurora crew and Captain Chip who made an extra stop to safely view the peak of the eclipse with our shadow papers. We also had some Aquarium staff and volunteers on board, Jackie and Daire, who were very helpful with extra leatherback sea turtle info to share!

— Laura Howes

sprinkles the humpback up close
Talk about a closeup!

Today aboard the Seastreak Liberty we journeyed into the fluid meadows of southwest Stellwagen Bank. On our arrival we witnessed the lumbering triad of Cajun, her calf, and a third humpback of unknown title. Whilst the mother slumbered along our starboard the calf encroached upon our flank, bearing a warrior’s scars of a recent battle with entangled fishing gear. The progeny dove under our hull and rematerialized off the stern, and so we carried on toward clouds of whale alchemy.

Volcanic brumes of whale breath loomed above the humpbacks known as Aerospace, Bounce, Nile, Toboggan, Sprinkles, and “17BH35”, a nameless leviathan sighted on the 9am excursion. This congregation was neighbored by an association of Pele, Pumba, and Crisscross who displayed little reservation in encircling our vessel between subsurface banquets on benthic shoals below. Etiquette proves an abstract concept of no concern to non-humans, for Pele unleashed a fecal brume of sensational magnitude! One would think a whale as a living centrifuge, as the nutrients of this evacuation were stirred and dispersed through the water column by the pendulum of the creature’s massive fluke.

Perseid and her 2017 calf were drawn into the fray, cruising in a vast orbit around the vessels of terrestrial observers. Perseid’s calf was keen on inspecting our vessel, revealing to us the scars of entanglement that proved invaluable to tumultuous patches of whale parasites. The associations of Pele and Cajun was eager to linger in harmony with our vast group of Humpbacks, and so we departed a flight of at least 14 humpback whales. We set course for the homestead under a sun masked by a lunar spell, but the light of our experience was not to be eclipsed.

humpback whale fluke
Humpback whale fluke

See more images from today’s whale watches!