This is not a whale blog.

I wish I saw enough whales that I required a whale blog.

Somehow, while back east visiting my family, I convinced everyone we should go whale-watching.  At lunch beforehand we tried to figure out when the last time the four of us had been on a boat together, and I think it was like 25 years ago in our Boston Whaler on Long Island Sound.  It was time to hit the water again.

 Sandy Neck Lighthouse

My parents had been on a whale watch boat before with Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises out of Barnstable Harbor, so that's the one we picked.  I was hoping for whales, but of course I was really hoping for birds.  Pelagic birds.  I had zero expectations until the morning of the whale watch when I looked at the website and realized the boat was heading to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a spot I recognized from eBird as being great for pelagic birds. 

We set sail with a hundred other people (or so it seemed) at 1:30 in the afternoon, cruising out of the harbor into Cape Cod Bay.  We picked up speed as we began to gun it straight for Stellwagen Bank, and after half an hour or so I saw my first shearwater and Wilson's Storm-Petrel.  I took terrible photos and hoped for better views. 

A Northern Gannet appeared in the distance, a bird I had forgotten about.

We made it to the bank and while everyone got pumped on whales I got pumped on a shearwater party beyond my wildest dreams.  The majority of the party consisted of Sooty and Great Shearwaters, neither of which were lifers.

My previous experience with Great Shearwater was brief as it flew by a boat out of Half Moon Bay a few years ago.  I had thought the bird was striking in its minimalist black and white and grey, but looking at the field guide later I decided I was silly for thinking it striking.  Now after spending hours with dozens of these birds I go back to my original sentiment:  this is a striking bird. 

Also present at the whale scene were Cory's and Manx Shearwaters, both life birds.  Cory's turned out to be bastards to photograph despite being slightly more numerous than Manx. 

The cinnamon brown in their wings is so pleasing

Manx Shearwaters were the least common shearwater, but surprisingly easy to pick out with their obvious black/white color scheme and spazzier flying style.  

Wilson's Storm-Petrels were always around, but rarely close. 

Know who the shearwaters like to party with?  Humpback whales.  

As you can see above, we were not alone out there.  A couple other whale-watching boats were in the area, and I imagine our boat looked as tourist-packed as this boat:

Zooming in on this photo just now I found a woman holding a baby more or less over the railing, as well as two yellow labs (?!). 

The only gulls I intentionally photographed on this trip were a couple of Laughing Gulls that flew by in breeding-ish plumage. 

That was about it from my family's Cape Cod whale watching adventure!  It was a short 3.5 hours but packed with so many great birds and about two dozen humpback whales.  Good times!!!


  1. wow! were they whales trying to catch the birds when they jumped?? Awesome! You got a lot of good birds.

    1. I don't think the whales were intentionally going for the birds but I am guessing a bird winds up in a whale mouth from time to time. The birds were snagging fish that the whales were stirring up.

  2. I was thinking about taking Marlene on a whale watching boat here from San Diego. But remembering that the only days we have off are weekends and holidays... and looking at that sardine can--I mean, whale watching boat, I'm now having second thoughts!

    1. It looked awful in the photo but it was totally fine in reality- I never felt like a sardine.

  3. Shear(water) madness! So many kinds! Oh, and whales are cool too.

    1. Best part: I did not have to watch a single person throw up to see these birds!

    2. That makes it the best pelagic ever. Hope your luck holds in October.

  4. Much tubenosery. Glad your plotting and scheming worked out.


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