A Whale of a Trip to Boston

We made our way up to another New England city this week: Boston. It was just a quick overnight trip to celebrate my birthday, but we packed enough activities into the evening we arrived and the next day that it almost felt like we spent a full weekend there.

I’ll focus on the food tomorrow as it was so good it deserves a post on its own, but the pièce de résistance of our trip was our visit to the New England Aquarium starting with a whale watch (which the aquarium offers in partnership with Boston Harbor Cruises).

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Tuesday morning dawned on grey and foggy with the threat of rain on the horizon. We got to the harbor at about 9:00 that morning and immediately went in search of a plastic poncho (my raincoat and umbrella didn’t make the cut for our six suitcases). Fortunately, one of the employees working the whale watch took pity on me and ran to grab a disposable plastic beauty I could wear on the trip. It was a good thing too because almost as soon as we boarded the boat the sprinkles began. By the time we were out in the open waters, a steady rain was coming down.

At about 10:00, we disembarked from the port and headed out towards the Stellwagon Bank Marine Sanctuary where our guide explained we should be able to see whales feeding. As we made our way out of the bay, we got some great views of the Boston skyline and some really neat lighthouses.

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Once we got out of the bay, the ride got pretty choppy–and we were on the back of the boat which typically provides the smoothest ride. A couple of times I looked through the doors and could see the front of the boat pitching up and down in the waves. It filled my body with the same nervous excitement I get when going on rides at an amusement park.

It took about an hour or so to get out to the sanctuary, but shortly after we got into the shallower waters we began to get sightings of the beautiful creatures we journeyed out to see. Even though the rain was coming down in a steady stream and a fairly heavy fog blanketed horizon, we probably saw about ten different humpback whales feeding and were able to get pretty close to a few of them. Check out this gallery with some of the photos I was able to capture.

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At the first sighting of the whales, everyone rushed onto the bow to see the creatures surfacing and diving back below the waters. Eventually the rains and cold breeze chased all but about three of us back indoors. Rain pelted our faces and wind whipped our hair, but we planted our feet and stayed on the bow until the last possible minute, scanning the horizon for more whales.

When the boat turned back to return to Boston, we made our way once more to the back of the boat and hunched together to stay warm (I was determined to make the trip standing outside so we’d be able to get the full glory of the sea and see any marine life braving the weather). It wasn’t until we learned our boat had a unique stowaway that we made our way upstairs. There we found a beautiful Northern Gannet perched on one of the benches.

Matt and I nicknamed him Stowey and watched him until we got back to port. We joked about the reasons he might have hitched a ride. Perhaps he had a hot date on shore (he did spend a good amount of time grooming on the trip back) or maybe he lost a bet with the seagulls and was dared to ride on a boat with the humans. Whatever his reason, it was a treat to see such a beautiful bird so up close and personal.

All good things must come to an end and so was the case with our whale watch. Fortunately, we still had the aquarium to tour. After scarfing a quick lunch and warming up with a cup of hot chocolate in the aquarium café, we made our way to the exhibits.

First stop, the penguins. It was lunch time for these cuties and they excitedly jumped from their rocks and into the water, swimming up to meet their feeder. Like children, the bossier ones pushed and shoved the others out of the way to get their food first. A few of the more laid back penguins chilled out where they were and waited for the food to come to them.

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Next up, the Shark and Ray Touch Tank. A traumatic incident involving a petting tank that resulted in hives for Matt when he was younger meant neither of us were going to touch anything, but it was fun to watch others tentatively stroke the gentle creatures and then squeal with delight.

IMG_8648Time was on our side because when we left this exhibit, we learned the trainers were just about to start a demonstration with the sea lions. It featured a large male, a female and her adorable pup!

IMG_8651Don’t you just love this face?
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We watched the sea lions perform tricks for squid treats for a while before wandering through the rest of the aquarium. There were hundreds of amazing exhibits featuring stunning creatures from around the world. These are just a few of the animals we saw.

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In the center of the aquarium is a gorgeous, four-story Giant Ocean Tank that visitors wind up and around to access each floor. According to the aquarium website, the tank is 40 feet wide and holds 200,000 gallons of salt water. It is filled with more than 1,000 animals including Myrtle, a giant sea turtle that has lived at the aquarium since June of 1970!

The top of the Giant Ocean Tank opens up to allow visitors to look down on the creatures swimming below. Again, time was on our side and when we got to the top we were able to see divers feeding the sharks, turtles and other animals.

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Visiting the aquarium and going on the whale watch was such a treat. I recommend them if you are in the Boston area. You can find hours and ticket prices here (including combo packs that provide a discount for doing both the aquarium and whale watch like we did).

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