Holiday Monday and it was back to Plymouth to board one of Captain John’s open deck vessels for a four hour round trip out to Stellwagen Bank where the whales come to feed. We had no idea what to expect and since we were at the tail end of the season, before the whales start their migration south, the crew were cautious about what we might see, but we were hopeful that we would glimpse a humpback or two. Sailing out of Plymouth harbour you get another view of the Mayflower. We passed the paddleboat Pilgrim Belle
and two lighthouses before turning out into the open water. A professional marine biologist accompanies each sailing and described the birds and animals we might see as we made our way out of Cape Cod Bay. The question we all wanted answered of course was “are the humpbacks still here” and our biologist, ever the professional, wouldn’t commit to an answer except to say “the expectation is that we will see whales.”
After an hour or so, and with our expectations properly managed, we reached Stellwagen Bank and joined 3 other boats on the lookout for humpbacks. Everyone was on tenterhooks as we all stared out in every direction. Our guide drew our attention first to the port side “humpbacks at 10 O’Clock;” everyone dashed over to look. Sure enough, in the distance we saw the distinctive V shapes of the flukes, or wing like sections of two tails disappearing into the water.
Then, a couple of fellow tourists shouted from the other side and again we all scurried across, cameras in hand as we snapped clouds of air and water vapour spouting about 15 feet high as the humpbacks exhaled. The relief was tangible: “They are still here.”
Out in the distance we saw another boat with what appeared to be several humpbacks directly off its starboard side. “Look at that – they are right there, wow, how lucky those people are to see them so close…” We hoped that our boat would turn towards them but instead we seemed to be turning away. Our guide sensed our impatience and explained that the Captain John fleet are signed up to a commitment for responsible whale watching – they do not chase the whales, but sit patiently at a safe distance and wait for them to come to the boat.
We didn’t have to wait long.
Over the next hour, more and more whales approached, kick feeding on all sides of the boat.
This is where the humpback raises the back part of its body and then slaps the water with its tail, creating a sound so loud that the fish are stunned and confused and easy for the whale to capture.
Our guide pointed out circular clouds that started to appear in the water. “They are creating bubble nets” she told us excitedly – “watch for their mouths!” Sure enough, seconds later, the humpbacks surfaced, opening their enormous jaws and scooping up their feast.
There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe how incredible this experience was. We recorded as much as we could and every time I play back the footage and hear the kids’ excited laughter it gives me goosebumps. Our guide estimated that we saw upwards of 90 humpbacks that day, with at least 30 right next to our boat. As first experiences go, it was phenomenal, something we will all remember for the rest of our lives. In some ways we are reluctant to do it again in case it doesn’t live up to that first experience, but on the other hand, we can see how addictive it could become. If we lived in New England I’m sure we would go as often as we could afford.
I’ll leave you with the pictures.