A young humpback whale has been spotted feeding at the mouth of Boston Harbor over last weekend.

The unnamed whale, which is 18 to 20 months old, is the 2018 calf of an adult female named Whirlygig. The youngster, which is 30 to 33 feet long, would have been weaned by its mother last autumn and has probably been on its own since early this year.

The good news is that this juvenile humpback, still of unknown gender, is feeding successfully at the mouth of Boston Harbor on schools of menhaden, also known locally as pogies. Of concern, however, is that it is doing so in the middle of the shipping channels into Boston’s busy port. 

Young Humpback Whale Spotted In Boston Harbor

This young, acrobatic whale has been seen feeding alongside one of the dredge barges that is deepening the shipping channel.

The whale had been spotted the past few days by the New England Aquarium Whale Watch vessels between Boston Harbor Light and Graves Light to the north. It has mostly been seen feeding, but also napping, or what is called logging.

humpback whale calf

Having whales in the harbor used to be an unusual event. But since 2013, seeing whales has become a near annual occurrence happening about once per year and always with young, inexperienced humpbacks. In August 2018, a different young humpback whale spent a day deep in the harbor swimming just off South Boston. 

So why are large whales just 5 or 6 miles from downtown Boston? Whale behavior is mostly influenced by food availability. Over the last two summers, large schools of menhaden (pogies) have been in residence from the South Shore to New Hampshire. Many posted videos have shown humpback whales feeding close to shore.

Having whales so close to a major city is the product of two conservation success stories. Humpback whales, once considered threatened along the East Coast, are now considered to have a stable population since being protected in the early 1970s. Humpback whales will also now occasionally enter Boston Harbor, because the water quality has so dramatically improved since the 1990s cleanup that large schools of migratory fish spend much of the mid- to late summer here.

How long the whale will stay is unknown. However, the Aquarium asks recreational boaters to slow speeds and post a bow watch when at the mouth of the harbor. Propeller injuries can disfigure and even kill large whales. If any whale is sighted, boaters should cut engines and enjoy the magnificent sight until the whale clears the area. Boaters should not pursue whales.

Just 25 miles east of Boston and at the tip of Cape Cod is America’s only whale feeding sanctuary. By taking just a three-hour trip from downtown Boston, anyone can see the largest animals to ever live on Earth. Few cities in the world have that incredible opportunity at their doorstep!