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Fin whale

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A Humpback whale in Boston Harbor

Heidi Hansen is a seasoned WDC intern, who now serves as a naturalist for Boston’s Best Cruises, writes about the humpback in Boston Harbor. 

Memorial Day weekend in Boston Harbor is one of the busiest times of the year – representing the start of the summer recreational season, and if the weather is nice, many people spend their extra day out on the water.

Those visiting Boston for a whale watch this Memorial Day were able to glimpse an extremely unusual sighting – a wayward humpback whale that had wandered almost all the way to the inner harbor, first sighted off the breakwater of Logan Airport.

As a naturalist on Boston’s Best Cruises’ whale watch vessel, the Voyager III, I have seen a number of bizarre occurrences in Boston Harbor over the last couple of seasons. Last September there was another whale sighting in the harbor, however this turned out to be the carcass of a juvenile fin whale that had floated in. A live whale in the harbor, however, has not happened since 2005.

Busy with tourism and private boaters, fishing vessels, and large container and cruise ships, Boston Harbor can be an extremely treacherous place for our whales, particularly on one of the biggest tourism days of the year. Thankfully, however, this youngster had a number of helpers from the Boston police force, environmental police, and aquarium keeping watch and alerting boaters traveling through the harbor to its presence. Additionally, while the channel in Boston Harbor is approximately 40 feet deep at low tide, there are many very shallow places where a whale could strand.

As we left on the Voyager III for our morning whale watch, we were able to get a brief glimpse of this young humpback whale off of Deer Island head light in the outer harbor, which meant that the whale was moving in the right direction – back out to sea! Monica, our project supervisor, and new intern Elizabeth documented this individual with GPS and photo-identification data, though we have yet to get a positive ID.

When we returned from our trip, the whale appeared to have been completely clear of the harbor. While it is very unclear as to why the whale ended up in the harbor in the first place, we are thankful that it eventually found its way back to safer and deeper water.