- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
By James Drake
Call me Ishmael.
Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him.
These words, written by Herman Melville in a great American novel published in 1851, concerned the hunting down and killing of an immense sperm whale.
Today, many people still seek whales, but it’s just to observe, not do harm.
We call this whale watching, and I finally had a little sample myself last week on a visit to Maine.
We traveled up there to see our youngest daughter, and besides stuffing ourselves nearly every day with fairly inexpensive but most succulent lobster, my wife and I had also planned a few side trips to look at some lighthouses, shop, pick blueberries and also take a little cruise looking for whales.
This whale watching cruise sailed from Boothbay Harbor out into the Gulf of Maine. It was aboard a big boat run by Cap’n Fish’s Whale Watch Tours and it was most comfortable with a huge air conditioned lounge and plenty more seats up on top to get really good views. You could buy a hot dog, have a soda or even order up a mixed drink. Sweet.
Well, those were my thoughts while we were still tied up at the dock waiting for the cruise to begin.
Around the Chesapeake Bay, there really isn’t a great difference between our high tides and low tide. It’s usually about three feet or less.
In Maine, however, the tidal deviations can be huge. It was dead low tide when we finally left the dock and in the exact same time frame three feet of water comes into the Chesapeake Bay, three times or more that amount is roaring into Boothbay Harbor.
We were going out into the Gulf of Maine against all that water that was rushing in. It quickly became evident now that if you wanted any comfort at all, you’d better be hanging on to something solidly attached or you’d soon be getting a real close up look at the deck.
OK, it was a rough ride out, but I’m very happy to report I didn’t need one of those little airline barf bags being handed out by the crew. I wasn’t really sure what to expect after an hour run to the feeding grounds. The boat finally slowed down and everyone aboard started looking really hard to see a whale.
“There’s one, 12 o’clock, dead ahead,” soon came the announcement over the loudspeaker and everyone aboard started looking forward. I didn’t see anything.
We were instructed to think of the boat as a big clock with 12 o’clock straight ahead, 6 o’clock behind us and 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock straight out to the sides.
After a few minutes passed, a guy to my right started pointing at 3 o’clock and yelling, “There it is.”
I still didn't see anything. “Yep, I saw it. I’m pretty sure I saw a fin,” said that same guy still pointing at nothing but water.
All of a sudden, a collective roar came from everyone aboard when a big fin whale broke the surface at 9 o’clock on the other side of the boat.
That man pointing at nothing was pretty quiet for the rest of our trip and don’t we all know someone just like him that lives around here?
No matter, this cruise was only for 3 1/2 hours. With an hour to get out there and another hour back, we didn’t really have a whole lot of time to be seeing many whales.
Before we sailed, I figured if we got lucky, maybe we’d spot a half dozen. I was wrong.
I’ll bet we saw closer to 50 minke and fin whales, and maybe 15 of them were up-close-and-personal sightings with the whales rising less than 100 feet from our boat.
The minke whales were about 25 to 30 feet in length, but some of those fin whales were more than twice the size of a minke.
Before the whales take a breath, they’d often shoot a plum of water high up into the air out of their blowholes. That process was so much louder than I had ever imagined. Think about it sort of like the decibel level of jet aircraft or maybe Old Faithful going off.
Around the lower Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, many of us have seen plenty of breaking fish.
This was a little different for some of these breakers we were seeing in Maine looked like buses coming up out of the water. They were huge.
There were two young ladies in crew uniform aboard and each had recently graduated college with a B.S. in marine biology. One works the bar and the other talks over the loudspeaker and they switch jobs every other day.
The one during our trip working the loudspeaker gave us several helpful hints to identify what kind of whale we were seeing and also told us that some of the bigger ones consume 800,000 calories in a typical day. Yeah buddy, you can bet those whales were big.
We also learned that these fin whales can easily live to be 90-years-old. Did you know whales lived that long?
The tide was still coming in when we started for shore, and that ride was quite smooth.
A ticket costs $48 for adults and the price goes down to $13 for children 5 and younger.
There are a few boats that sail from Ocean City that specialize in nature cruises looking for whale and dolphin. You’re far more likely to see some dolphins than a whale in Maryland waters, but every now and then there is a bona fide whale sighting.
Your chances are a whole lot better to see whales in a place like Maine where huge krill populations keep the whales around feeding most of the summer.
Ah, but then if you visit, you’d probably have to develop some kind of taste yourself for lobster rolls and tails. Yes, life can be so cruel.
Early migratory game bird season
For the 2012-13 hunting season, the open hunting for doves will run in three splits: Sept. 1 to Oct. 6, Nov. 3 to 23 and Dec. 22 to Jan. 3.
Early resident Canada goose season will be Sept. 1 to 15 in the eastern zone and Sept. 1 to 25 in the western zone. The September teal season will be Sept. 17 to 29 and a split season of Oct. 26 to Nov. 23 and Jan. 11 to 26 is scheduled for woodcock.
The August meeting of the Coastal Conservation Association Patuxent River chapter will be at 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at Stoney’s Kingfisher in Solomons.
Bill Goldsborough, fisheries director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, will be the featured guest speaker and the public is invited to attend.
The chapter’s annual dinner-auction is set for 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 8 at Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood. Fishing trips to places like Cape Cod, Mass., Louisiana and even Ireland plus home generators, legal-to-possess moonshine and much more will be on the block for various raffles and auctions.
Tickets cost $65 per individual or $120 a couple and can be purchased online at www.ccamd.org or at the Aug. 20 chapter meeting.