Happy: A Quest for Life After Death

Monday, June 04, 2007

"THAT was a NICE fluke!"

Ian's recent interest in whales, along with Colin's long-standing love of beluga whales, inspired us to spend Memorial Day on a 4-hour whale watch.

We got up early to drive to Gloucester, MA where we had reservations with Captain Bill's Whale Watch at 10:30. After forking over nearly $100 (after AAA discount), we boarded a boat without Captain Bill but with a naturalist from the Whale Center of New England, intern Laura, and Captain ... Bob.

A whale watch requires patience, something in short supply among the Burnett clan. Every five minutes Ian asked me, "When are we going to see whales?"

It turns out you have to get to Stellwagen Bank, an underwater plateau about 20 miles offshore from Gloucester, before you're likely to see any whales. The shallow (about 100 feet deep) and nutrient-rich water apparently make this a favorite feeding spot for humpbank, minke, and fin whales. The whales spend from May through October gorging in areas like Stellwagen Bank before heading to warmer waters where they like to mate ... but where there is no food.

Getting to Stellwagen Bank takes an hour (was it only an hour?). But once we spotted the first whales, the trip was truly spectacular. We first saw some mothers with their calves -- one pair close enough to touch the boat (oops).

Every time one of the whales would dive down into the water for a mouthful of fish, the naturalist on board would give us a play-by-play: "Did you see the baleen? There's the fin ... oh, that's a NICE fluke!" Sometimes the whales didn't dive deep enough to show us their flukes (tail, photo above). Then the naturalist was disappointed: "Fluke? ... oh, not quite." She seemed to know almost all the whales we saw by the pattern on their fluke, and called them names like Grommet.

Colin, who insisted on being held almost the entire trip, would point every time he saw a whale and say, "Look!"

The last place we stopped was a virtual whale smorgasbord. We hardly knew which direction to look, since there was a pair off the port side of the boat, two groups of three or four off the bow, another pair off the starboard side, and several more farther off in the distance. The whales would sometimes dive into the water together, three or four at a time, coming up together. Other times they just floated, noses (do whales have noses?) well out of the water, for a minute or more at a time while some of the hundreds of birds swarming around, hoping for leftovers, sat on their heads.

About this time Ian started whining for pizza from the boat's snack bar.

OK, so maybe we should have waited a year, until Ian was older (a recurring theme in my life). But I thought it was great.


Anonymous said...

That sounds like a fabulous way to spend memorial day. I am surprised you saw so many whales. It's fun to see a picture of the three handsome men in your life!

Sweeney Household said...

You really took the photo of the "fluke" --- looks like a postcard to me! COOL. Your kids are lucky. :)