An amazing thing happened to me on a whale-watching trip out of Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the early 90s. I was on a boat with approximately 100 people. The captain remembered me from prior trips and allowed me to sit with him in the wheelhouse to avoid the crowd on deck. He located whales off the port side so everyone moved to port, standing 3-4 people deep along the rails.
I climbed down as a feeling compelled me to stay along the starboard side. I was staring at the water wishing I had taken a less crowded boat when a nose silently started to rise from the water just below me.
A nose…a head…an eye rose until it was level with my eyes, not 3 feet distant. The massive Humpback hung there while he looked into my eyes and studied my face. I have no idea how long the encounter lasted as I was lost in that small eye staring from such a large, ancient head. I fought the urge to touch him; it would have been so easy but I feared it would break the spell and I had no right to violate the whale’s realm. The whale was in charge and I was his subject.
As silently as he had arisen from the depths, he descended and swam away, leaving only the tiniest of ripples in the water where he had been. I turned to see if anyone had noticed. There was no one else on the starboard side.
I turned to the captain in the wheelhouse. He was looking down at me with a smile as he nodded and winked. That was 15 years ago but I can still shut my eyes and see the magnificent, wondrous Humpback whale that chose me to study.
Future articles will cover whales found in the Caribbean as well as around the world that are facing imminent extinction. For now I am interrupting the current series because the next couple of months will see the annual migration of Humpbacks from their calving and mating grounds in the Caribbean to their summer feeding grounds off the northeastern coast of the U.S. and Canada.
Last year I was privileged to lecture during the Environmental Association of St. Thomas’/St. John’s whale watching trips. EAST, a non-profit environmental organization, sponsors 4 one-day trips each year during the month of February. The captain and crew of the catamaran Allura graciously sail out to the Humpbacks’ migration routes where passengers are taught whale-spotting techniques. Along the way there are lectures on whales as well as other marine and bird life that might be seen in and about the seas.
I will be onboard again this year and EAST, the Association of Reef Keepers, and the captain of Allura invite readers of All At Sea to join us. This year’s trips are February 19th, 20th, 26th, and 27th. Allura departs the National Park Service Dock in Red Hook on St. Thomas at 8:30 a.m. and returns around 4 pm. Tickets are available at Dockside Book Store and East End Secretarial Service on St. Thomas; Connections in Cruz Bay on St. John; or by contacting EAST at (340) 774-8816 or (340) 774-1837. Space is limited to 45 passengers per trip. And who knows. Humpbacks can live over 70 years. Perhaps, this year, I will once again meet the whale who chose me all those many years ago.