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whoa whales!

Posted by on August 18, 2012

map of Stellwagen Bank

Stellwagen Bank is marine sanctuary located in the southwest corner of the Gulf of Maine, between Cape Ann and Cape Cod Bay. After talking to several boaters from the New England area about Stellwagen Bank and whale watching, we knew exactly where we would be headed next.

As we departed Plymouth, we were all extremely excited. We were free of the marina, we were going to look for whales, and we were headed for Maine. We knew it would be about 5 hours before we reached any whales, and then the plan was to sail all night to arrive in Portland the next morning.

At almost exactly 5 hours into the trip, Colin starting asking when we would see any whales. Wil and I had already spent quite a bit of time on deck with binoculars in hand, keeping our eyes peeled for whale spouts, and we were beginning to wonder if we would find any whales.

Moments after Colin came on deck, the first whale appeared. It was similar to the fin whales we’d seen on our way to Cape Cod, but we couldn’t tell what it was. Shortly after, a few more whales appeared and then moved on, but none came close to the boat.

THEN, we saw a very large whale surface in the distance, and we recognized the humpback tail. This whale moved very quickly towards us, and as it got closer, we realized just how monsterous it was. Not knowing the whale’s intent, we all braced for impact. The whale dove and there was a lull. We watched and waited with racing hearts. Suddenly, the whale surfaced directly at our bow. Everything about the whale was enormous! It slowly moved through its motions of blowing its spout and arching its body as it gradually dove again. It was difficult to tell if the whale went under the boat. Swirling bubbles from where the whale had been, drifted under the trampolines and bridgedeck to our stern. We were staring at the mass of bubbles when the whale re-surfaced just off the starboard side of our stern. We stared in amazement, as we tried to settle our beating hearts.

humpback surfacing near our bow

still too close for comfort!

Following the up-close and personal experience with the one humpback whale, we saw many more. Everytime we saw a whale spout or tail, we sailed in that direction. Later, we discovered that our track had followed the southern edge of the bank where it drops off into deeper water. The whales were obviously feeding along this ledge.

humpback whale tail

humpback whale

humpback whale

mom & babe


so beautiful

humpback tail

humpback tail

humpback whale tail






















Our boat wasn’t the only boat on the bank. There were plenty of fishing boats, another sailboat, and a couple of whale watching boats. Prior to heading to the bank, we had read the rules of ocean etiquette for whale watching. Don’t approach a whale head-on. It’s unlawful to approach the protected Right Whale at anytime. Only one boat at a time is permitted within a 100-foot radius of a whale. If a whale is close, keep your engines in neutral. At one point, over the VHF radio we heard one whale watching boat captain accuse another boat captain of cutting off a whale’s path. It was quite the serious argument!

Needless to say, we were on an adrenaline high during the whole whale watching experience. Memories of humpback whales will stick with us for a lifetime.

See our whale video!

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