Tag Archives: Stellwagen Bank

What the Fluke

I will swim with a humpback whale some day.

It’s at the top of my bucket list for sure.

I actually planned a vacation to Costa Rica several years ago for the opportunity to swim with the whales in Drake Bay, but sadly, no whales were in the area during my stay.

I have, however, had the opportunity to swim with wild dolphins, sea turtles, sea lions, rays, black tip reef sharks, and manatees.  Each of those experiences are kind of sacred to me.  All are moments that I will never forget.

While swimming with wild marine life may not be everyone’s cup of tea, if you haven’t been on at least one amazing whale watch, you are missing out.  We are incredibly fortunate to have whales not far off our coast for a good part of the year.  I, all kidding aside, sometimes find myself laying awake at night thinking, “I wonder what the whales are doing right now?” Freak meter rating high, I realize, but true nonetheless.

So, today, knowing that the whales have been plentiful for the past several days, we went for a trip with Cape Ann Whale Watch.  How do I know they’ve been plentiful you may ask?  I follow their blog.

I had the opportunity to speak with both long time owners, Nick Danikas and Jim Douglass, in the parking lot prior to the trip.  Both are great guys who are pretty passionate about offering trips that leave guests with memories to last a lifetime.

Likewise, the crew and the naturalists are phenomenal and beyond highly educated on the matter of whales and sea life indigenous to our waters. Their enthusiasm was contagious.  Even the captain, John Karvelas, was excitedly pointing out bubble clouds as they formed on the surface of the water.  Bubble clouds are a method that whales use to trap krill and sand eels in a tight school so that they can emerge, mouths open, and swallow up a giant meal.

Today’s trip was nothing short of amazing.  To begin, we only had to head 11 miles off the Dog Bar Breakwater, which was a treat in itself.  After a short steam, we were literally surrounded by humpback whales.  I’ve been on many whale watches.  Both on local whale watching boats and on smaller private boats. Today’s trip was one for the record books.

Click Here for more information about Cape Ann Whale Watch

Hear are some of my favorite photos from today’s trip.


Tagging Wolffish on Stellwagen Bank

It’s not easy wrestling with an Atlantic wolffish, even when it’s on a ship’s deck, out of its element. Strong, slimy, and endowed with a brawny set of jaws sporting hefty canines, wolffish—ocean catfish, many locals call them—exude a bad attitude. Those teeth, designed for crushing clams, crabs, and sea urchins, seem just as determined to clamp onto a hand or boot.

Just ask Dr. Elizabeth Fairchild, assistant research professor at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and lead investigator for the Northeast Wolffish Tagging Project. For the past few weeks, Fairchild has has been wrangling, tagging and releasing wolfs aboard two commercial draggers, the F/V Stormy Weather (Capt. Carl Bouchard) and the F/V Lisa Ann II (Capt. Jim Ford), departing from the Gloucester Marine Railway on Rocky Neck. Assisting Fairchild in these tagging endeavors—restraining an angry 25-pound wolffish isn’t a one-man job—are Dr. Shelly Tallack, research scientist at the Portland-based Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), and GMRI interns Willy Goldsmith and Kristina Thorpe.

If you spend any time targeting groundfish off the Cape Ann coast, odds are you know two things about wolffish. First, they’re delicious—the “poor man’s lobster,” some say. Second, since May 2010, it’s been illegal for both recreational and commercial fishermen to keep them. The move to ban retention has sparked controversy, largely due to the dearth of data about wolffish biology, population structure, and migratory patterns. Enter Fairchild and crew.

Funded by the Northeast Consortium, this research project aims to tag wolffish in Massachusetts Bay in order to learn more about their movements in the region. Each fish is weighed, measured, and marked with two yellow dart tags beneath the dorsal fin.

The project puts a premium on cooperative research, both among research institutions and between researchers and fishermen. Joining Fairchild and Tallack is Dr. Michael Armstrong of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA DMF), based in Annisquam, who will look at age and growth patterns in the species.

A tagged wolffish is easy to spot—look for the bright yellow streamers just below the dorsal fin.

If you catch one, please leave the tag(s) in place, but note down the following information:

  • Tag number
  • Fish length
  • Location captured
  • Date

And if possible:

  • Gear type
  • Habitat type
  • Spawning condition
  • Water depth

To report your tag and claim your reward, you can:

  • Call (603) 862-1244

The plastic dart tagsCapt. Carl Bouchard with tagged wolffishElizabeth Fairchild preparing to collect dataGMRI Intern, Kristina, measures a wolffishGMRI Intern, Kristina, with wolffishGMRI Intern, Will, with wolffish

All pictures and story provided by William Goldsmith