Sunday, June 24, 2012

Close Encounters of a Spectacular Kind

I experienced my first close encounter with humpback whales in the early 1980’s.  Whale watching has become a popular tourist attraction over the past twenty years or so. On my last visit to Provincetown, I counted three whale watch boats that sail from McMillan Wharf daily during the summer, taking loads of interested tourists out to Stellwagon Bank in hopes of getting up close and personal with a humpback or two.  But back in the early 1980’s, whale watching was a wholly novel idea.  For twenty dollars, Greenpeace offered a ride aboard a boat with a naturalist. The idea was to make a bit of money for the organization and also to do some education and PR for these fascinating creatures

 On an early April morning, my husband and I boarded a boat that took us out to sea. April can be chilly in the northeast. It was downright freezing out on the waters of the Atlantic.  The wind cut through us as we huddled together with hot coffee. After an hour or so, someone shouted. The boat slowed. Off in the distance was a tiny puff of vapor. I would have missed it if not for the other passengers pointing.

We snapped this pic of a humpback sounding on a recent whale watch
 We approached the whales and the whales, curious, approached us. There were two of them, mother and baby humpback. They began diving in and around the boat, surfacing close enough that you could nearly touch them. Their sleek dark backs glistened black in the sunlight. Their spouts smelled of fish. When they finally sounded, fins dripping diamonds into the water as they dove deep, they left enormous footprints. And an enormous imprint on me. Even now, so many years later, I can still feel the impact of being so close to such majestic creatures.

My husband and I began making whale watching a regular part of our excursions to the ocean .  At times we’ve been lucky and gotten close to a whale or two. Sometimes, all we see is vapor off in the distance.  Each time, it’s been a fun and gratifying experience. But never again has it been as spectacular as that first time, many years ago on a cold April morning, when we first encountered the whales.


The P-Town Queen is now available from Champagne Books!


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Wonderful experience any time that you can get up close and almost personal with a free animal.

We seek out nature, too, but have not seen the whales as close as you have. They are still on my bucker (of fish) list, along with meer cats.

Ute Carbone said...

Go and see them, Julie! It's well worth it. Meer cats would be fun to observe.

January Bain said...

We had a fawn nursing in our backyard just this early morning!!!

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Where would I find meer cats? I have held a lemur in my arms, and he tried to steal my Juicy Fruit. Now we have a cat who looks much like him.

Liz Fountain said...

Gorgeous. I've read about a bay down off Baja California, I think, which used to be a whaling site. Now the whales come back to where they used to be killed, and instead they interact - play, sing, dive - with the humans who go out on small fishing boats to watch them. It's amazing, the healing of this planet of ours that can happen when we decide to let it.

Big Mike said...

Careful. Just saw on TV where they had to rescue a whale watch boat when one of the creatures breached and came down on the watchers. No Joke.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2011)

Ute Carbone said...

Wow, January! We've had deer in our backyard, but never a nursing fawn!
I don't know Julie, maybe there's a meer cat watch somewhere. Must google...
Thanks Liz. They are amazing and very big up close and personal
I saw that on a news feed, Mike. It wouldn't be hard for them to capsize a boat,they are massive. Maybe whale watching has gotten to popular and the whale, like Alec Baldwin, was just tired of the paparazzi. Guess we may never know. :)