Friday, July 29, 2011

Whale Watching Up Close

Get ready for an ocean safari in search of the largest mammals in the world. From seaports around the country summer and fall are excellent times to embark on whale watching tours.

Many weekend tours offer three cruises throughout the day with the last tour, the sunset cruise, departing in time to view the whales in the warm glow of the setting sun. The New England Aquarium sunset tour is a four hour adventure to Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, located near the inner waters formed by Cape Cod's hook shape. The 30 mile trip from Boston Harbor takes about 90 minutes, leaving a good hour to search for humpbacks, minke, pilot and, if you're particularly lucky, the elusive and rare right whale.

The ship's captain usually enlists the adventurers to help in the whale search as they near the feeding grounds where they feed on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton and small fish. With the alert sounded that the ship is getting close everyone focuses on the horizon. Excitement builds as hundreds of eyes scan the waters for the tell tale spray from the whale's blowhole or the flip of a huge tail. Each trip is unique with the possibility of any combination of whales, dolphins, or sharks becoming visible. On this particular sunset cruise nature put on a dazzling display for those who came out to spend a little time with the whales. Following the vapor trail sightings a huge whale fluke was seen disappearing beneath the sea surface. Then off the port bow, almost as if on cue, a huge humpback whale breaches the surface and is rewarded with a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the crowd.

A few points to remember to make your adventure memorable include taking motion sickness medication if you are prone to getting seasick, or if the waters will be rough. Be sure to keep hydrated, not with alcohol. Even in summer bring a light jacket as the weather changes often. Bring a camera, the whales are often close enough that even your camera phone will record a good image. Most tours offer guaranteed whale sightings, with a ticket on another day if you fail to see a whale. Regardless of which cruise you choose the wonder of seeing 30 or 40 ton whales rising out of the water as they breach the surface is inspiring.