Random Thoughts

The whales of July 12th

... where to take your summer guests

Words and photos by Ann Robbins Talbot

A whale watch. I hadn't gone in years. But I remembered it as a fun day on the water.

So this year with two twelve-year-olds and my son, 47, in tow, I set sail out of Plymouth on one of Captain John's boats, ready to watch whales. Each of us was equipped with a camera, sun screen, a jacket and rubber-soled shoes all necessary.

At eleven a. m. we pulled away from the dock and our tour guide pointed out items of interest from Pilgrim days the Rock and the Mayflower. Leaving Plymouth Harbor, the boat speeded up and we all put on jackets as the wind whipped our faces and excitement rose. About an hour out of Plymouth is Stellwagen Bank, the place where whales feed during the summer months.

Our tour guide was also a marine biologist and spoke to us over a loud speaker. She told us to look for spouting water and flocks of birds. Using the boat as the center of a clock and the bow as twelve o'clock, we could yell out the location of a whale. Then the pilot would get a little nearer. Suddenly she hollered, "One o'clock. Two whales!" As you might suppose, everyone rushed to the rail with cameras ready. We soon learned that if we had a bit of patience, the pilot would rotate the boat so all could see.

The boat slowly moved forward and we saw four more whales together. We observed many feeding behaviors. When a whale was about to surface, we saw a huge light green spot in the water. It quickly became covered with bubbles as the whale pushed air from its mouth ahead of it.  Its head would surface with mouth wide open. When a whale would dive, we saw its tail in the air, each with distinctive markings. The biologist could name many of the whales because they came back to the same spot year after year.

Our boat seemed to gently rock in the same place. Whale after whale swam over to us giving us photo-ops of their backs, tails and twice, their stomachs. By three o'clock we had seen eighteen different whales of three different types humpback, finback and minke. These huge animals are related to us. We are both mammals. And they seemed to be as curious about us as we were about them. It was a great thrill.

Since the pilot had kept us out long past our finishing time, we sped back to the harbor. Many people replaced the jackets that had been shed at the feeding grounds. Several groups were from day camps on a field trip. After the excitement of the whale watching experience, much time was spent editing digital cameras, comparing pictures and having naps.

The trip cost $35 for adults, $23 for seniors and children with a surcharge of $2 for fuel, added this summer. Food and soft drinks were sold inside the boat. The trip from 11 to 4 was worth every penny.

I am sure that on July 12th, no matter where you took a whale watch the Cape, Plymouth, Boston or Gloucester you would have had the same amazing experience, because they all go to Stellwagen Bank. How great to have such an adventure so close to home.

August 3, 2007

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