12th 2009
“This is how it’s done…”

Posted under whale watches

When I signed up for Twitter a few months ago (username whalegeek, surprise surprise), I had no idea how useful it would be.  I get web design links, news links, whale/ocean/environmental links and more.  And then I started to follow the Whale Center.  And they post about the whale watching trips every day.  Since my last trip out was mostly about the fog, the reports of multiple sightings and multiple forms of activity since that trip was just too much… Makes it tough to live 2-2.5 hours from various points of departure for whale watching.

And so I went off to take whale watch #7.  Was happy to be joined by a friend who had never been out before, and the weather report was really very favorable.  And it was, above the water.  The water itself was quite choppy, making for an interesting ride out (better than a carnival ride).  This time, though, no fog, so the visibility was much better.  The other “hitch” to the day was that most of the activity happening on Stellwagen Bank was happening to the south, so off we went for a 2 hour ride down (usually it’s just about 1 hour from Gloucester to find activity), far enough that Provincetown’s Pilgrim Monument could be clearly seen on the horizon.

2ww09g1Our first whale encounter of the day turned out to be a mother and calf pair, Nile with her 4th calf.  In the distance, we could see them breaching in turn, but once we got closer, they had settled down a bit.  The activity had become more of  what was possibly a teaching moment, with Nile demonstrating how to tail slap and lob tail.  We were close enough to really get a sense of how large Nile, as an adult humpback, is.  It’s hard in photos to appreciate their size, but with one’s own eyes, it takes on a whole new dimension.  After a few minutes of this activity, both whales settled and the calf started nursing.  

While they were doing this, more splashing could be seen a little distance away, and it turned out to be a breaching minke whale!  I’ve seen this activity only once before, and Mason Weinrich from the Whale Center reported that this is really only seen a handful of times in a season.  So, this was an extra treat for all of us.  The whale appeared to be a juvenile, reported to be around 10 feet long.  It’s an interesting contrast after seeing the relative bulk of a humpback, even a calf, to see this much smaller, sleeker whale suddenly fly out of the water. Its size made the breaching a much quicker blink-and-you’ll-miss-it venture. In thinking about it more, it also is a strange sight because minke pectoral fins are small, and they remain pressed against the body during the breach, unlike a humpback which often shows some sort of pectoral flourish as it spins in the air.

After the minke settled down, we went off after more splashing, and found Nile and calf once again.  The calf had apparently learned its lessons well as it treated us to a display of breaching. Nile did not join in this time, but the calf was very energetic. After some time watching these two, it was time to turn back to the north, though we came upon another humpback before long. This one was basically surfing the waves just beneath the surface so we saw only the dorsal, but it was a frequently seen whale and so well known and identifiable: Etch-a-sketch.

The ride back to Gloucester was a good bit calmer than the ride out since we were going with the wave motion. My friend didn’t have a lot of fun with the motion, so hopefully it didn’t turn her off to whale watching forever since this was sort of a rare rough travel day.  And I know it’s just a matter of time before the tweets entice me out on the water again…

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