Take the 45-minute ride from Boston to Gloucester. The ‘whale watch capital of New England’, is one of the best places to see wild and endangered whales in their natural habitat. It is located between two major feeding grounds, Jeffrey’s Ledge and Stellwagen Bank, which together comprise the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
We start sailing in Captain Bill’s whale watch cruise, one among the several such tours, at 8.30 am to view the world’s largest mammals surfacing, feeding and breaching. A beautiful sunny day, and soon we were out in the open water, about 30 miles off the coast. Our round trip of 60 miles in the ocean lasted for nearly four hours. The sun is deceptively strong on the water and sunscreen lotion is a must. Carry a jacket and hold on to your hat from getting airborne in the strong winds when you are in the middle of the Atlantic. On the cruise, you could see different types of whales and even a few dolphins who seem to enjoy performing leaps and jumps for us. In warmer months, many species of whales, including Humpback, Finback, Right and Minkes, travel from their breeding grounds in the tropics to feed on the abundance of small schooling fish found here. This provides researchers and whale watchers alike, a tremendous opportunity to observe, study, photograph and experience sights that are very rare. Luckily, we saw the Humpback whales jumping right in front of our boat or feeding in large groups. In an effort to continue and contribute to research, naturalists track and name individual whales every year. Three beautiful humpbacks graced us with their presence, Cilla, Nyall and Pinball. Pinball played around our boat which provided for great shots of her long pectoral flippers. The whales repeatedly and loudly slap the water surface as they leap and land. Knowledgeable guides are able to identify whales who were obviously ‘old friends’. You can see the great marine mammals blowing bubbles when breathing,while their massive bodies are submerged. The boat’s captain has an uncanny ability to know where the whales would appear like great underwater Zeppelins. In the course of the circuit, our guide narrated in depth about why whales breach, how to recognise individual humpbacks, and their various feeding styles. We watched the humpback whales, a mix of adults and calves, from as close as 100 metres to the shore.
Whale watching is always a tricky proposition and you can see them only if you are lucky. Fortunately, the tour operators cooperate with one another, and share information on the areas where whales are active. We spent a good 15 minutes watching these monarchs of the sea as they dived and surfaced. For many of us on the cruise, it was the quintessential oceanic experience of our lives. Whales bring with them the message that in a shrinking world, we are captivated by things that stay too far to touch. Whales drag in their wake the mystery of unexplored, unseen zones; deep animal hotels in the ocean. We are eager to get closer to that, when we can. If we can.